Yesterday, in Part I of this analysis of the top fifty cargo carriers in 2015, we looked at the international, domestic, and total cargo traffic flown in 2015 on a carrier-by-carrier basis. You can read Part I here, but today, we dig a little deeper into the 2015 data, and some interesting trends emerge.
The chart at right compares the domestic, international, and total traffic flown by carriers in the major geographical regions in 2015 to the same data six years earlier. Carriers from the Asia-Pacific region still carry the largest share of international and total traffic, but that share is shrinking, primarily due to the increasing traffic flown by carriers from the Middle East. (And while the Middle Eastern carriers’ current 13.4% share of international traffic may not, at first glance, seem all that large, consider that almost all of it is carried by only four airlines – Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Saudia).
Another interesting way to sort the data is by airline type. There has been much talk in recent years about a shift of air cargo from main deck to belly, and some well-known carriers have either abandoned freighter operation or considerably reduced their freighter fleets. This has led some observers to conclude that freighters are rapidly becoming irrelevant, but the data simply do not support this.
While the chart does clearly show an increase in cargo traffic flown by belly-only carriers (particularly domestic traffic) over the last five years, it also shows similar increases for airlines that only operate freighters – both general freight all-cargo operators and express operators. Consider Cargolux: with a fleet of just twenty-four 747 freighters, and carrying no domestic traffic at all, the Luxembourg-based carrier reported the tenth-highest total cargo traffic in 2015. Yes, twenty-four 747s is a large freighter fleet, but many of the airlines with which it is competing not only have big freighter fleets – some almost as large as Cargolux’s – but also the belly capacity of massive passenger fleets.
The one group that has seen its share fall over the past five years is the combination carriers (airlines that operate both passenger and freighter aircraft). But while it is true that carriers such as Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, EVA, and IAG Cargo are either cutting back or abandoning freighter operation, there is no sign that freighters themselves are no longer important – in fact, they are as important as ever, just in a different way.