Air cargo will exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2021

The demand for air cargo will exceed the demand levels registered before the pandemic, according to forecasts by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Today, IATA forecasts point to air cargo demand growing 13.1% during 2020.

This puts the air cargo business in positive territory compared to pre-crisis levels (2020 saw an annual decrease of 9.1% compared to 2019).

With this, IATA expects total air cargo volumes to reach 63.1 million tons in 2021, almost at the pre-crisis peak of 63.5 million tons that occurred in 2018.

It also expects freight revenue to reach $ 152 billion, an all-time high.

This represents an increase from $ 128 billion in 2020 and $ 101 billion in 2019.

Air cargo

Capacity remains limited due to the large-scale grounding of the passenger fleet.

This removed significant belly capacity, boosting yields by 40% in 2020, and additional growth of 5% is expected in 2021, according to IATA.

In 2021, cargo will account for a third of the industry’s revenue.

This is significantly above the historical contribution of cargo, which ranged from 10-15% of total revenue.

However, the improvement in air cargo cannot compensate for the dramatic drop in passenger revenue.


Capacity is likely to return at a slower rate than demand.

That reflects pressure on airlines from debt and fuel prices to only operate services with positive cash flow.

Taking cargo and passenger traffic into account, the overall weighted load factor is forecast to increase slightly to 60.3% in 2021.

This is considerably below the 66% that IATA estimates will be the breakeven point for profitability in 2021, even though cash costs of operations are falling.


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