May 2020: still very far from ‘normal’, but 11% increase over April – ‘conversions’ have some impact – continuous yield drop

June 18, 2020

After the extreme Covid-19 impact on air cargo volumes in the month of April, the provisional May-results look a bit different. Worldwide, chargeable weight carried by air, decreased with 29% compared with May 2019 (year-over-year, YoY). As the final YoY figure for the month of April was a decrease of 34%, the conclusion may be that May showed a slight improvement. The improvement was also visible month-over-month (MoM), as May showed an increase over April of 11%.

In terms of yields/rates, we had witnessed a completely uncommon 63% MoM-increase in April, when a good part of cargo capacity suddenly ‘disappeared’ as passenger aircraft stopped being operated.  The MoM-increase in May was 5%. In other words, worldwide yields/rates still went up, from USD 3.74 to USD 3.95, in spite of additional capacity coming to the market by an increasing number of passenger aircraft being (partly) converted into freighters. See also this report.

Although this small recovery does not promise a full rebound any time soon, in a number of markets some guarded optimism may be justified.

The market origin Middle East & South Asia (MESA) had suffered most in April (-70% YoY), but came back strongest in May (+45% MoM). The other origin regions showed a MoM increase varying from 4% (North America) to 14% (Central & South America). The origin Africa showed the largest increase in USD-yields/rates (+13% MoM) whilst changes in other regions hovered between -10% (Europe and North America) and +12% (Asia Pacific & MESA).

The market from China-East to Germany benefited most from the recent, very drastic market changes: although it slightly decreased in volume MoM, its YoY increase topped 60% both in April and in May. Its performance for the year-to-date (January–May) was +24%. Other top markets that performed much better than average in the year-to-date, include Hong Kong – USA Pacific (+16%) and China East-USA Midwest (+29%). The top markets that suffered most so far this year, were Kenya-Netherlands (-28%) and Germany-China East (-24%).

In the different product categories, the most unexpected development was a 1% YoY decrease in pharmaceuticals & temperature-controlled goods, the first such decrease for this category in 2020. The larger perishable categories outperformed the market as a whole in MoM growth: Fruits & Vegetables +16% and Fish & Seafood +26%.

Looking at what happened within the month of May, the most striking features were:
   - the continuous weekly drop of worldwide USD-yields/rates: from USD 4.29 in the first days to an average of USD 3.52 for the last week;
   - the daily pattern recovering from the steady drops shown in April (see graph below).

Capacities & Load Factors

The much-reported increase in passenger aircraft being transformed into ‘quasi-freighters’ was clearly visible in the strong load factor jump in passenger aircraft (see below). Within the month of May, we also noted a drop in the market share of the freighter companies between the first full week of May and the last one, another sign that the conversions started to have some impact.