Robust expansion on the Asia-Africa trade lanes contributed to strong growth in air cargo demand for African airlines, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) said on Tuesday.
In April, demand increased 30.6% compared to the same month in 2019 - the strongest of all regions in the world. It was also the fourth consecutive month of growth in air cargo demand in Africa at or above 25% compared to 2019; therefore, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the industry. Iata represents some 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic.
Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan told Parliament's portfolio committee on public enterprises last week that the hope is for a revamped South African Airways (SAA) to take to the skies again in August this year. Finding a strategic equity partner remains key for this to happen.
"There were various expressions of interest, either in SAA as a group or for part of it, for example, the cargo business," Gordhan said at the time. He has indicated on other occasions too that the cargo sector could hold good opportunities for SAA, especially within Africa.
In April 2021 global air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-Covid-19 levels (April 2019) with demand up 12%. Capacity, however, remains 9.7% below pre-Covid-19 levels, mainly due to not as many passenger planes, providing belly space for cargo too, as yet in use as before the pandemic.
"Airlines continue to use dedicated freighters to plug the lack of available belly capacity. International capacity from dedicated freighters rose 26.2% in April 2021 compared to the same month in 2019, while belly-cargo capacity dropped by 38.5%," says Iata.
Its research shows that underlying economic conditions and favourable supply chain dynamics support air cargo. For example, global trade rose 4.2% in March and competitiveness against sea shipping has improved. Air cargo rates have stabilised since reaching a peak in April 2020, while shipping container rates have remained relatively high in comparison.
"Longer supplier delivery times as economic activity ramps up, make the speed of air cargo an advantage by recovering some of the time lost in the production process. Air cargo continues to be the good news story for the air transport sector," said Iata's director general Willie Walsh.