‘Slack season’ is short-lived in July

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Global airlines managed the traditional ‘summer slack season’ for air cargo space in July by constantly tweaking capacity levels to address flat demand during the month versus pre-Covid levels.


Global airlines managed the traditional ‘summer slack season’ for air cargo space in July by constantly tweaking capacity levels to address flat demand during the month versus pre-Covid levels.

New industry volume, loadfactor and rates data from analysts CLIVE Data Services and TAC Index also highlight airfreight rates lagging two weeks behind changes in the demand/supply ratio. As in previous months of 2021, to provide meaningful analyses of the current state of the global air cargo market, CLIVE continues to measure performance to pre-COVID-19 levels as well as providing 2020 year-over-year comparisons. This shows chargeable weight was flat in July versus 2019 and +23% over 2020.

Capacity, however, remains tightly constrained. Available capacity, while +29% compared to 2020, is still -18% below the level seen in 2019 before the pandemic took hold. Consequently, CLIVE saw a fluctuating ‘dynamic loadfactor’ in July. Reduced capacity contributed to the +5% pts rise in dynamic load factor versus 2019 – measured against both the volume and weight perspectives of cargo flown and capacity available – but a -3% pts drop over the same month in 2020.

“The dynamic loadfactor for July of 66% is the lowest we have seen since the start of the COVID crisis. The difference compared to 2019 is also 2-4% pts lower than in recent months. The start of the holiday season and its traditional impact on air cargo volumes is obviously a factor, but it’s also clear that airlines are constantly tweaking capacity. Demand has not picked up yet, so they are tightly managing supply. Compared to where the market was a year ago, performance on a par with July 2019 is certainly not bad news, but the demand vs. supply ratio is going to remain tight, especially with no signals that the inter-continental passenger market is going to recover anytime soon,” said Niall van de Wouw, CLIVE’s managing director.

He added: “When we look deeper into the data, we see that this figure of 66% was mainly caused by low loadfactors at the start of the month, while, in the last week of July, it rose to 68% and this continued in the first week of August. So, if those early weeks were the ‘slack season,’ the loadfactor was still at a relatively high level and any summer slump was short-lived – but this has to be seen against the backdrop of current capacity trends in the market. The rise in loadfactor during the last two weeks of July was mainly caused by capacity being taken out of the market based on less strong airfreight demand, as we have reported previously.”

CLIVE’s dynamic loadfactor data and the latest airfreight rates analyses from TAC Index indicates a 1-2 week delay in rates being adjusted to industry loadfactors.

The BAI (Baltic Air Freight Indices) monthly average increased by 2% in July over June but was 6% below the year-to-date high seen in May. TAC Index saw week-on-week reductions in the final two weeks of July, which followed the drop in loadfactor at the start of the month. It reports 13 of its 17 trade lane indexes saw an increase over June 2021. The overall index was positive versus July last year at +38% and versus 2019 by 98%, reflecting both demand and constraints in capacity.

The China and Hong Kong markets saw an improvement in July over June, 2% and 5% respectively, after large declines in June. All the trade lanes from these markets were positive over June. The European market also improved versus June, with average rates up 2% ex Heathrow and Frankfurt for July, for example, although the growth versus 2019 differed significantly, with Frankfurt +62% and Heathrow up a staggering 202%.

Gareth Sinclair of TAC Index commented: “Demand continues to be strong in the airfreight industry versus 2020 as economies recover, eCommerce continues to thrive, and the sea freight industry continues to suffer from capacity and operational challenges. In summary, air freight market prices were up in July but did not recover back to the highs seen in May. Prices continue to be strong versus last year and pre-pandemic levels and this is expected to be the case for the foreseeable future as demand continues to outstrip supply.”