Ahead of expected improvements in the global economy, airline trade body IATA has signaled concerns about capacity, an issue likely to get more acute when a vaccine for the coronavirus Covid-19 global pandemic becomes available. 


Pointing to increased business confidence and expected orders as companies use air to restock quickly, the International Air Transport Association was cautiously optimistic about the outlook for the sector. 


“We think we are entering a reasonably positive environment for air cargo demand,” Brian Pearce, IATA’s chief economist, told a webcast briefing this week.


Overhanging this upswing, however, is the lack of capacity, particularly in the freighter section. 


Across the Pacific, 90% of cargo has been carried in freighters, significantly more than is moved by pure freighter on the North Atlantic routes, where two-third of cargo moves in freighters, or intra-Asia routes, where more than half of goods are moved in freighters, said Pearce. 


Freighters are being utilized as much as they can be, given the record number of hours per day they are being used, a problem compounded by the grounding of the world’s passenger fleet. Passenger planes have been adapted to carry some cargo, but the overall lack of capacity “is still a serious constraint,” said Pearce. 


While rising cargo revenues might lessen losses – which IATA is still pegging at US$15 billion this year – the trade body does not expect cargo to rescue the airline industry.


Capacity will be an ongoing and broader challenge, particularly if a vaccine is found and made globally available, as IATA estimates that some 8,000 Boeing 747F flights will be needed to distribute the vaccine worldwide, added Glyn Hughes, IATA’s global head of cargo. 


IATA is working hard and with multiple partners to ready the industry for this. 


“We are working across many fronts,” said Hughes, listing UN bodies, pharmaceutical companies, airports, ground handlers and local airport communities as among those it was talking to. “We actually encourage discussions at all levels,” he added.

–      Michael Mackey