December Air Freight Demand Rallies to End the Year


The air cargo market numbers close out the year slightly below 2022’s performance.

According to data gathered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air cargo demand rallied in 2023 with a resilient Q4 performance despite various economic uncertainties. This performance put full-year demand only a bit below 2022 and 2019.

Global demand for air cargo, which is measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), decreased by 1.9% compared to 2022 (-2.2% for international operations). When examining it alongside 2019—before the COVID-19 pandemic—it was down 3.6% (-3.8 for international operations).

Capacity in 2023, which is measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), was 11.3% higher than 2022 (+9.6% for international operations). It was up 2.5% (0.0% for international operations) compared to 2019.

Looking at the month of December specifically, global demand was 10.8% above 2022 numbers (+11.5% for international operations), representing strongest yearly growth performance over the past two years. Global capacity was 13.6% above that same year’s levels (+14.1% for international operations).

Other relating factors included that:

  • The manufacturing output and new export order purchasing managers indexes (PMIs) remain below the 50-mark for December, a sign of contraction.
  • As measured by the corresponding consumer price indices (CPI), December inflation in both the United States and the European Union remained below 3.5% year-on-year. Conversely, China’s CPI indicated deflation for the third straight month.

"Despite political and economic challenges, 2023 saw air cargo markets regain ground lost in 2022 after the extraordinary COVID peak in 2021, notes Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. “That puts the industry on very solid ground for success in 2024. But with continued, and in some cases intensifying, instability in geopolitics and economic forces, little should be taken for granted in the months ahead.”

Chart Credit: IATA

Chart Credit: IATA

According to the chart above, Asia-Pacific airlines saw a 0.9% increase in air cargo demand in 2023 compared to 2022 (-1.4% for international operations), along with a capacity increase of 28.5% (+16.6% for international operations). Out of all the regions, airlines in the area logged the best performance with 18.5% increase in demand (+15.4% for international operations) compared to the previous year. Capacity rose 31.1% (+22.9% for international operations) during that same timeframe.


Air Cargo Demand Surges 10.8% in December, Closing 2023 Near 2022 Levels. IATA. January 31, 2024. Accessed February 6, 2024.

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