Air Cargo supply chains showing rebound in Asia Pacific

Loading platform of air freight to the aircraft Créateur : pierivb | Crédits : Getty Images/iStockphoto
LOGISTICS MANAGEMENT – By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor · March 19, 2021

Two leading industry associations have issued positive forecasts for 2021, with Boeing telling shippers it will produce aircraft to meet their future payload needs.

With the Pacific Rim driving most of the growth, air cargo demand has shown significant gains for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis surfaced last year.

Two leading industry associations have issued positive forecasts for 2021, with Boeing telling shippers it will produce aircraft to meet their future payload needs.

Preliminary 2021 traffic figures released by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed that airline operations are still depressed, as the spread of COVID-19 variants resulted in tighter border restrictions in international as well as domestic markets across the world.

Nonetheless, air cargo demand keeps improving as world trade gains momentum. Growth in the e-commerce sector is keeping stride with the further recovery in the global manufacturing sector supporting air cargo markets, but the depressed passenger business is still a concern. 

“Renewed efforts to contain COVID-19 through lockdowns and border restrictions have again affected international passenger demand, which remains close to a standstill,” says AAPA Director General, Subhas Menon.

He adds that the uneven roll-out of vaccinations across the world will only delay the full reopening of borders.

“In this extremely challenging operating environment, airlines are struggling to survive. While some carriers are receiving financial support, further assistance would be needed for most of them to stay afloat, given that international borders remain largely shuttered.”

Analysts for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) note that Asia-Pacific airlines saw demand for international air cargo fall 3.2% in January 2021 compared to the same month in 2019, but this was an improvement from the 4.0% fall in December 2020.
Furthermore, the region’s airlines reported the highest international load factor at 74.0%.

“Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “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, adds de Juniac.

Amid all the gloom and doom in the passenger sector, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers sees a silver lining – particularly in Southeast Asia.

Analysts working in Boeing’s Singapore’s office anticipate airlines in Southeast Asia will need 4,400 new airplanes valued at $700 billion to support expanding demand over the next 20 years.

The intra-Southeast Asian market will become the fifth largest in the world by 2039, and the vast domestic and regional air network across the region positions it well for a post-pandemic recovery, according to Boeing’s Commercial Market Outlook.

Boeing predicts that the region’s commercial airplane fleet will grow 5.3% annually over the next 20 years. In addition, demand for aftermarket commercial services – valued at $790 billion – will help maintain the fleet over the same period.

“We project the need for 43,110 new commercial airplanes and the demand for aftermarket services to be equivalent to $9 trillion over the next two decades,” says Darren Hulst, Boeing vice president of Commercial Marketing. “Freighters will remain the backbone of the cargo industry with the need for 930 new and 1,500 converted freighters during the same span.”

This comes as welcome news to IATA, which notes that a third of Pacific Rim trade by value is dependent on air cargo:

“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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