Major carriers in the Asia-Pacific region with freighter fleets continued to extract higher revenues in a tight cargo market during the third quarter of 2020.
Cargo demand out of Asia Pacific was “driven by new electronic products,” said Ronald Lam, chief customer and commercial officer of Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Group, in its October traffic release. Traffic was also higher on return flights from Europe and the Americas with “solid perishable goods movements and some signs of a recovery in auto-parts traffic,” Lam said.
The following graph shows cargo revenues at six Asian carriers for the past year. Note that Asiana has yet to report its quarterly cargo revenue, while Cathay Pacific does not do so.
Korean Air posted the highest quarterly cargo traffic of the Asian combination carriers we tracked, at 2.2 billion FTKs and representing a year-on-year increase of 20.1%. Cargo revenue was 68.4% higher than a year ago, but dropped 12.1% compared with the second quarter of 2020. In addition to its eleven 747Fs and twelve 777Fs, Korean Air is also operating around four reconfigured 777-300ERs.
Taiwan-based China Airlines reported October cargo traffic up 32.4% year on year, to 648 million FTKs — the carrier’s busiest month of 2020. Elevated yields remained stable month to month at $0.44 per FTK, leading to cargo revenue that for the third month in a row, was more than double revenue for the same month in 2019. With cargo revenue exceeding $285 million, according to current exchange rates, October was second only to May, for which cargo revenue hit $320 million. Although China Airlines is due to receive its first 777F by the end of the year, the carrier plans to keep operating its fleet of eighteen 747-400Fs for longer than previously expected.
Fellow Taiwan-based carrier EVA Air saw its cargo traffic grow by 21.2% year on year in October, with cargo revenue surging 113% to around $172 million, the second-highest level this year after May’s peak of $199 million. Yield continued its upward trajectory since a dip in June and reached $0.46 per FTK. EVA Air recently placed top-up orders for three more 777Fs.
Despite increased freighter utilization, which drove load factors 10.4 percentage points higher year on year to 78.3%, the cargo unit of Cathay Pacific continued to suffer from the lower availability of bellyhold capacity in October 2020. Cargo and mail traffic was 30.2% lower YoY at 710 million FTKs. With the total number of passenger and freighter flights operated by Cathay down 80.1% in October, available capacity was 39.4% lower at 906 million FTKs.
To mitigate the lower availability of bellyhold capacity across its passenger network, Cathay continued to operate a large number of cargo-only flights with its passenger aircraft, including four reconfigured 777-300ERs. In October, 576 roundtrip cargo-only flights were operated, a 10% increase month to month from September.
Reflective of a freighter-light strategy, Singapore Airlines October cargo traffic remained lower in annual comparisons for the month of October. Freight tonne kilometers were 41.7% lower YoY at 332 million FTKs on capacity that was down 57.8% to 388.8 million FTKs. Cargo load factors rose 23.7 percentage points to 85.5%. Load factors on flights to the regions East Asia, Europe and West Asia/Africa were all above 90%.
China Southern’s reported October cargo traffic was 2% lower YoY at 658 million FTKs. Although domestic cargo traffic was 15.5% lower at 127 million FTKs, international traffic rose 1.4%, to 530 million FTKs. International cargo load factors rose 3.3 percentage points to 68.4%.
Air China reported cargo traffic down 12.4% YoY in October 2020, to 373 million FTKs. International traffic, the largest segment of Air China’s cargo traffic, was 15.9% lower YoY at 239 million FTKs. Total tonnage was down 8.2% YoY to 117,000 tonnes. Year to date through October, Air China’s total cargo traffic is 29.8% lower compared to the same period in 2019, at 2.8 billion FTKs.