Air Freight Demand Continues for May


Double-digit, year-on-year growth is now on a six-month streak.

Although the calendar might indicate that Q3 2024 is officially underway, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) just released data for May 2024—as this in-depth analysis takes time to process—which point to global air cargo market demand maintaining its yearly growth in demand.1

Total demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), climbed by 14.7% compared to May 2023 levels (15.5% for international operations). These statistics represent the sixth straight month of double-digit, year-on-year growth. Capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), increased by 6.7% compared to May 2023 (10.2% for international operations).

Analyzing these numbers alongside the April year-on-year statistics,2 total demand increased by 11.1% compared to last year’s levels (11.6% for international operations); as for capacity, it increased by 7.1% compared to April 2023 (10.2% for international operations).

It is important to note that there were various influences that impacted the latest numbers:

  • In May, the purchasing managers index (PMIs) for global manufacturing output and new export orders pointed to signs of expansion, at 52.6 and 50.4 respectively.
  • Industrial production and global cross-border trade increased month-on-month in for May, at 0.5% and 1.5% respectively.
  • In April, inflation was what IATA describes as a “mixed picture,” if one were to examine it by region. For example, in the European Union and Japan, inflation rates fell to 2.7% and 2.8% respectively, but rose in the United States to 3.3%. On the other hand, the inflation rate in China stayed near zero (0.3%).

"Air cargo demand moved sharply upwards in May across all regions,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. “The sector benefitted from trade growth, booming e-commerce and capacity constraints on maritime shipping.

“The outlook remains largely positive with purchasing managers showing expectations for future growth. Some dampening, however, could come as the US imposes stricter conditions on e-commerce deliveries from China. Increased costs and transit times for shipments under $800 may deter US consumers and pose significant challenges for growth on the Asia-North America trade lane—the world’s biggest.”

Chart Credit: IATA

Chart Credit: IATA

According to the chart above, there was a 17.8% year-on-year demand growth for air cargo in May Asia-Pacific airlines.

However, there was also extremely high demand in the Africa-Asia trade (40.6% year-on-year), while the Europe-Asia, Within Asia, and Middle East-Asia trade lanes rose by 20.4%, 19.2% and 18.6% respectively. There was also a year-on-year capacity boost of 8.4%.

On the passenger side3 of the equation, although it does not necessarily relate to air cargo demand, total passenger demand rose 10.7% over May 2023, while overall, total capacity increased by 8.5%.

“Strong demand for travel continues with airlines posting a 10.7% year-on-year increase in travel for May. Airlines filled 83.4% of their seats, a record for the month. With May ticket sales for early peak-season travel up nearly 6%, the growth trend shows no signs of abating,” added Walsh.

“Airlines are doing everything they can to ensure smooth journeys for all travelers over the peak northern summer period. But our expectations of air navigation service providers (ANSPs) are already being tested. With 5.2 million minutes of air traffic control delays racked up in Europe even before the peak season begins, it is clear that Europe’s ANSPs have unresolved challenges. And the 32,000 flight delays over the Memorial Day weekend in May show that challenges persist in the US too.”


1. Strong Air Cargo Demand Continues in May. IATA. July 2, 2024. Accessed July 8, 2024.

2. Saraceno N. Air Freight Continues Its Climb in March. Pharmaceutical Commerce. May 30, 2024. Accessed July 8, 2024.

3. Passenger Demand Up 10.7% in May. IATA. July 3, 2024. Accessed July 8, 2024.

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