The strong growth seen in air cargo during the pandemic is expected to continue into the peak demand period at the end of the year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

Global demand, measured in cargo ton-kilometers, rose 8.6% in July 2021, compared to July 2019, IATA said in its monthly air freight update on August 31, 2021. 

That’s a slight slowdown from June, which saw growth of 9.2% against pre-COVID levels, but still above the long-term average cargo growth of around 4.7%.

The capacity available to transport air freight is recovering as planes are ungrounded, but remains 10.3% lower than 2019, IATA added.   

North America remained the key performer in terms of air cargo demand in July, according to the IATA data. North American carriers posted a 20.5% increase in international demand in July 2021, compared to July 2019, with new export orders and a desire for faster shipping times underpinning the demand. 

IATA said that businesses and shippers would likely see strong demand for air transport during the peak cargo season in the last three months of 2021, and that given low inventory-to-sales rates and congested supply chains, some customers could turn to air freight in August or September. 

“Economic conditions indicate that the strong growth trend will continue into the peak year-end demand period,” IATA director general Willie Walsh commented in the statement.  “The Delta variant of COVID-19 could bring some risks. If supply chains and production lines are disrupted, there is potential for a knock-on effect for air cargo shipments.”

In particular, IATA noted that recent COVID-19 outbreaks in southeast Asia and China, which have led to some restrictions on handling at airports, would likely be reflected in August data. 

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Cargo demand has been growing since the pandemic began to exact its toll on air travel. Has cargo demand reached its peak or does it have room to grow further?