Global traffic figures for January showed that air cargo demand surpassed levels registered in January 2019, marking a complete recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on Tuesday. January figures also showed strong month-to-month growth over December 2020 levels, increasing more than 3 percent on robust manufacturing output, said IATA.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), finished 1.1 percent ahead of January 2019, led by particularly strong gains in North America and Africa. Meanwhile, the recovery in global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), reversed due to further capacity cuts among passenger flights. Capacity shrank 19.5 percent compared with January 2019 and 5 percent compared with December 2020, the first monthly decline since last April. IATA on Tuesday reported that January passenger traffic fell compared with December 2020.

According to IATA, conditions in the manufacturing sector remain robust despite new Covid-19 outbreaks that dragged down passenger demand. The global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) stood at 53.5 in January. Results above 50 indicate manufacturing growth versus the prior month.

The new export orders component of the manufacturing PMI—a leading indicator of air cargo demand—continued to point to further CTK improvement. However, as a Covid-19 resurgence suppressed export business in emerging markets, export demand softened compared with the fourth quarter of 2020, potentially weighing on future air cargo growth, said IATA.

Nevertheless, the level of inventories remains relatively low compared with sales volumes, leading historically to a need for businesses to quickly refill their stocks using air cargo services.

“Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft. That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online. In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air. This high-value commerce is vital to helping restore Covid-damaged economies—not to mention the critical role air cargo is playing in distributing lifesaving vaccines that must continue for the foreseeable future.”

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