World’s Top 50 Cargo Airports — Part II, The View From Space

Inside the Pactl terminal at Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Last week we began our annual analysis of the cargo airport scene with a look at the overall state of the air freight market in 2016, and a chart showing the top 50 airports worldwide, ranked for international freight, domestic freight, and total freight handled. Today we carry on with a more in-depth analysis, breaking down the data by continent and by country. (You can read Part I here.)

The chart in Part I showed the top fifty airports in three categories: international freight, domestic freight, and total freight, but the cargo handle at individual airports tells only the beginning of the story, and there are many other ways to look at the numbers.

Start with the view from space. The view that shows not airports, or cities, or countries, but continents. The chart at right shows the regional breakdown for the 1,600 airports that reported handling any freight, and, as usual, airports in the Asia/Pacific region led the way, handling 37.8% of the worldwide total. The Asian airports were followed by those in North America (28.2%) and Europe (18.2%), with airports in the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa handling progressively smaller shares.

The total freight handle was up in all six geographic regions, most notably in Asia and Europe, with gains of 5.4% and 5.0%, respectively, over 2015.

In addition to showing the shares by region, this year we also show average tonnage per reporting airport by region, and the leader here, by a considerable margin, is North America, where the average per-airport freight handle was 176,000 tonnes. Asian airports, in aggregate, handled considerably more freight than their North American counterparts, but there are many more of them, and on a per-airport basis, their handle was considerably less, at an average of 107,000 tonnes.

But continents are huge. Airports in the Asia-Pacific may have handled 40 million tonnes of freight in 2016, but China is not Bangladesh, and Japan’s economy is orders of magnitude beyond that of Myanmar. So, let’s zoom in a little, and up the resolution from continent to country.

The chart at right shows the combined handle of the airports in the fifty countries that handled the most air freight in 2016. For anyone who is involved in the air freight and express industry, the results contain no surprises. But what do those results really tell us? That countries with big GDPs have high volumes of air freight?

You knew that already. Maybe you would have guessed that Canada would rank above Thailand, or that New Zealand’s airports would handle a little more cargo than Israel’s, but most air freight or logistics professionals could probably have predicted the rankings reasonably accurately just based on their own experience, and their reading of the various air freight news sources.

To get to the heart of the way in which air freight tells us something about trade flows and the state of the world’s economy, we have to zoom in one more level. Just as we could say that tightening our view from continent to country could tell us more, so upping the magnification to the next level will give us even more information.

And tomorrow, in Part III of this analysis, we shall do just that, looking at traffic flows by urban region, and by airport type.



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