African airlines pin hopes on cargo as supply chain hassles drive need for fast transport

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African airlines only have 1.9% of the global air passenger market and 2% of the global air cargo market. (iStock)
African airlines only have 1.9% of the global air passenger market and 2% of the global air cargo market. (iStock)

African airlines saw the largest jump in international cargo for the ninth consecutive month, though passenger traffic was still nearly two-thirds lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is according to the latest data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents about 83% of the airlines in the world.

Passenger traffic was 62.2% lower in September this year compared to September 2019, though cargo volumes increased by 34.6%. Seasonally adjusted air cargo volumes of African carriers are now 20% above pre-pandemic 2019 levels despite trending more sideways for the past six months.

African airlines only have 1.9% of the global air passenger market, however, and 2% of the global air cargo market.

During a virtual briefing on Wednesday, IATA CEO Willie Walsh said IATA's vision for safely re-establishing global connectivity is based on vaccines being available to all as quickly as possible and vaccinated travellers not facing any barriers to travel. At the same time, testing should enable those without access to vaccines to travel without quarantine, he said.

IATA sees antigen tests as the key to cost-effective and convenient testing regimes and suggests that governments should pay for testing, so it does not become an economic barrier to travel.

"September's [global air passenger] performance is a positive development, but recovery in international traffic remains stalled amid continuing border closures and quarantine mandates," said Walsh.

As for global air cargo, IATA data indicates that the cost-competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of container shipping remains favourable. Before the pandemic, the average price to move air cargo was 12.5 times more expensive than sea shipping. In September 2021 it was only three times more expensive. 

"There is a benefit from supply chain congestion as manufacturers turn to air transport for speed. But severe capacity constraints continue to limit the ability of air cargo to absorb extra demand. If not addressed, bottlenecks in the supply chain will slow the economic recovery from Covid-19," said Walsh.

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