In a year filled with unforeseen impacts on every industry, it comes as no surprise that the air cargo industry has also seen significant changes. In some cases, packages are even being buckled into the seats passengers usually occupy. This is happening internationally, but the U.S. has stronger restrictions. Some foreign carriers are even removing passenger seats to make way for more cargo, especially because of the decrease in passenger travel. In the U.S., more shipments are traveling in the cargo bins of passenger aircraft rather than luggage. In some cases, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has allowed shipments to be stored under seats, in overhead bins, or even stowage closets. In those cases, the weight of cargo cannot exceed the approved weights for each area.
Typically, air cargo goods are any combination of low in weight, low in volume, of high dollar value, or time sensitive items such as an organ transplant. In addition to the usual cargo, other items are being shipped via air in mass quantities such as personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, ventilators, and goods purchased online. These items would not necessarily have been shipped on air cargo prior to COVID-19.
Fewer planes are traveling these days, but a larger percent of them are cargo planes compared to pre-COVID times. With fewer planes, shipping costs have gone up. In April, it cost $1.65 to ship a pound of cargo, up 65 percent from March because of fewer planes in the air. This is not due to a demand shortage, rather, a decrease in the supply chain.
From July 2019 to July 2020, cargo carried by U.S. air carriers rose nearly 13 percent by weight, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics preliminary data. In July 2019, the 12.8 percent system-wide gain, both domestic and international, was the largest year-to-year gain since June 2010. Most of this gain was the 16 percent increase in domestic cargo, which had the largest year-to-year gain since May 2009. It was also the eighth consecutive month that U.S. carriers carried more domestic cargo than the same month of the previous year.
These same carriers showed an increase of 4.5 percent in international cargo. The gain in international cargo was the first year-to-year gain since March 2019 and the largest annual gain since October 2018. Domestic cargo has seen an increase of 6.3 percent year-to-date, while international cargo has seen a decrease of 7.2 percent. Much of this is caused by restrictions in travel and the economy, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The table below shows the domestic and international system-wide change in U.S. airlines cargo by weight from the same month of the previous year.
In North Dakota, we have seen a great demand for air cargo in recent years. While 2020 data was not available at the time of this article, we can hope for another increase in air cargo in our state. We may not see the impressive increase that we saw from 2018 to 2019, but we will soon see the effect of the current demand for medical supplies and e-commerce. The graph below shows North Dakota compared to the U.S. as a percent changed in weight of cargo landed year-to-year since 2010. North Dakota was higher in every year except one. Let’s hope for continued positive trends in air cargo in North Dakota!
Source: ND Airports, FAA All-Cargo Reporting with Form 5100-108
Nels Lund, Airport Planner
North Dakota Aeronautics Commission
701-328-9650 | firstname.lastname@example.org