Air cargo traffic slides after many months above 2019 levels; concerns over downturn mounting

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The air cargo market outperformed air passenger markets during the coronavirus pandemic, since cargo cannot catch a virus and, moreover, vital medical equipment and pharmaceutical supplies were needed around the world.

In addition, a broader inventory restocking cycle boosted air freight in the initial rebound from the pandemic in late 2020, when cargo tonne kilometres (CTKs) started to exceed 2019 levels.

The global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is still much more progressed in air cargo than in air passenger markets. However, the Russia-Ukraine war and Omicron appear to be slowing air cargo traffic but with a lesser impact on passenger demand (particularly outside Asia and domestic Russia).

Global air cargo traffic (in CTKs), fell year-on-year in Mar-2022 for the first time since late 2020, according to IATA. Air passenger markets remain broadly on an upward recovery path (and have further to go before returning to pre-pandemic levels), but air cargo has often been viewed as a lead indicator in past cycles.

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