The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has managed to destabilize most of the global aviation market, even as disrupted supply chains have boosted airfreight rates to unprecedented highs. While in some cases that has led to startling increases in air cargo revenue in April and during the first quarter of 2020, the massive decrease in cargo capacity from idled passenger aircraft is leading to year-over-year declines in cargo traffic and volumes for most airlines.
Now that the world has had some time to adjust to the new reality of the pandemic, carriers are responding by adjusting routes and freighter schedules, as well as by utilizing their passenger aircraft for cargo-only missions. The scale of those missions began ramping up in April and continues to grow, as tracked in the Cargo Facts Passenger Freighter Database.
How those flights will impact traffic reports in the months to come remains to be seen. In examining April results, many of those carriers operating hundreds of passenger freighter flights are still reporting significant YoY traffic declines, suggesting that combination carriers previously relied much more heavily on their passenger bellies than their freighters to move cargo.
And now, to take a closer look at April results from Asia-Pacific carriers:
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon reported a 48.3% YoY decrease to 569 million revenue freight tonne kilometers (FTKs) for April. Cargo tonnage also declined 48.3% YoY to 84,634 tonnes. The traffic and tonnage figures also contracted significantly from March, which Cathay attributed to additional decreases in belly capacity across its passenger network. Cathay also noted that lockdowns around the world have negatively impacted movement of certain cargo types including perishables, seafood, live animals, industrial parts and equipment.
Cathay has made several changes to its network and operations to mitigate the pandemic’s impact. In addition to ongoing transport of medical supplies from mainland China and Hong Kong, Cathay has prioritized its capacity on routings to the Americas, Australia and Europe, and operated more than 500 pairs of cargo-only flights using passenger aircraft in April.
Singapore Airlines reported an April cargo traffic decrease of 54.1% YoY to 245 million FTKs, which was nevertheless outpaced by a capacity contraction of 64.7%. Cargo load factor increased again during the month, rising 17.5 percentage points, with routes to West Asia and Africa, East Asia and the Americas posting particularly large increases, of 45.6 points, 28.7 points and 22.0 points, respectively. YTD traffic declined by 23.6% compared with the first four months of 2019.
Air China’s cargo traffic for April was reduced by more than half YoY, falling 51.8% to 200 million FTKs. Traffic improved slightly from March, by about 9.3%, but YTD traffic continued its decline, falling 43.4% compared with the first four months of 2019. Domestic, international and regional traffic were all down in April, with the relatively small regional market posting the largest decline at 76.2% YoY. International traffic fell 55.1% and domestic traffic declined by 43.0%. Tonnage declines were also substantial, falling 45.6% YoY for April to 65,417 tonnes, and 38.5% to 278,814 tonnes YTD.
China Southern reported a 15.21% YoY decline in cargo traffic to 532 million FTKs for April, and an only 13.8% decline for YTD traffic through April, at 1.99 billion FTKs. Compared with March, April traffic improved in the domestic and regional markets, but China Southern’s largest market, for international cargo, reported a slight 3.8% decline from March. In terms of tonnage, declines were sharper for April and YTD — down 26.3% and 23.7%, respectively.
China Airlines stands out for reporting YoY improvements in its cargo traffic for April and YTD. The carrier reported a 12.1% increase for April to 473 million FTKs and a 6.5% YTD increase to 1.72 billion FTKs. Cargo load factors were also up by almost 10 percentage points. Combined with very high airfreight rates in April, cargo revenues at China Airlines were up more than 100% YoY.
EVA Air’s cargo traffic declined by about 10.5% in April to 243 million FTKs, its lowest reported monthly traffic figure so far in 2020. Tonnage also declined for the month, by 8.7% to 43,961 tonnes, and by 2.5% YTD to 185,212 tonnes. Cargo load factors increased by more than 10 percentage points, to 86.7% for April.