Coronavirus outbreak casts uncertainty on fragile air freight recovery in 2020, Iata says

December cargo volumes contracted 2.7% year-on-year, capping worst year for air freight demand in a decade

Medical staff members walking towards a military plane, which evacuated citizens of Russia and ex-Soviet countries from China's Wuhan province, the epicentre of an outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, are seen through a bus window at the Roshchino International Airport outside Tyumen, Russia February 5, 2020. Yuri Shestak/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE MANDATORY CREDIT
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The coronavirus outbreak could potentially impact the outlook for global air cargo volume growth in 2020, according to the International Air Travel Association (Iata).

Global air cargo volumes contracted 2.7 per cent year-on-year in December 2019, capping the worst year for air freight demand in a decade.

While there are signs that consumer confidence and export orders could pick up in 2020, it is "too early" to evaluate the long-term impact from travel restrictions following the Chinese coronavirus outbreak, Iata said in a statement on Wednesday.

"There is little relief in that good news as we are in unknown territory with respect to the eventual impact of the coronavirus on the global economy," Alexandre de Juniac, Iata's director general, said. "With all the restrictions being put in place, it will certainly be a drag on economic growth. And, for sure, 2020 will be another challenging year for the air cargo business."

The outbreak has prompted dozens of global airlines to cancel flights to China as authorities try to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The death toll from the new coronavirus edged toward 500, with 24,324 confirmed cases, of which 3,219 are severe.

The Iata report showed that all markets except Africa suffered air freight volume declines in 2019.

Middle Eastern carriers’ freight volumes decreased 3.4 per cent year-on-year in December while capacity increased by just 1.9 per cent.

This contributed to a decline in demand of 4.8 per cent in 2019 – the second biggest decline in growth rate of all the regions after Latin America. Annual capacity increased just 0.7 per cent.

"Disruption to global supply chains and weak global trade, together with airline restructuring in the region, were the chief drivers of the weaker freight outcome," Iata said.