Among the world’s top twenty-five cargo carriers in 2018, ranked by freight tonne kilometers (FTKs) carried, twenty-two of twenty-five carriers operated freighters.
Expand the list to the top fifty cargo airlines and thirty-three carriers operated freighters. The remaining 34%, mostly comprised of mainline carriers with large widebody passenger fleets, made the list without significant maindeck capacity in scheduled service. Among the top twenty-five carriers, all but three carriers or groups operated freighters: IAG Cargo, United Airlines and American Airlines.
Unchanged from 2017, FedEx Express remains firmly seated as the world’s top cargo carrier and, with 4.1% year-over-year traffic growth in 2018, continued to distance itself from other carriers. The spread between FedEx Express and the No. 2 carrier, Emirates further increased by 600 million FTKs, to 4.5 billion FTKs in 2018. The gap between Emirates and the No. 6 carrier, Atlas Air Group, meanwhile, narrowed to just 1.2 billion FTKs, down from 1.8 billion FTKs in 2017, making a further shake-up among the world’s top carriers a possibility. But how much of a determinant to future rankings will freighter fleet developments be over the next few years?
The chart at right ranks the Top 50 carriers in terms of total cargo and mail traffic carried in 2018. Shaded rows reflect carriers with freighter fleets.
While defining an “airline” or “group” for the purpose of compiling a ranking would seem to be a straightforward task, some assumptions must be made. Note that we make no attempt to link traffic carried by ACMI carriers to their cargo customer as in our annual express fleet analysis. Instead, we group carriers by common operating platforms, where applicable. For example, since Polar Air Cargo is a 51/49 JV between Atlas Air and DHL Express, we include traffic as part of the Atlas Group.
We have combined the traffic and fleets of various airlines that belong to the same groups as follows:
- Atlas Air Group includes Atlas Air, Southern Air and Polar Air Cargo
- Cargolux includes Cargolux Italia.
- Cathay Pacific includes Cathay Dragon and Air Hong Kong.
- DHL traffic includes only traffic reported by DHL’s own Air Operator’s Certificates, EAT Leipzig, DHL Air UK, DHL Airlines International Middle East, Blue Dart Aviation and DHL Aero Expresso.*
- Lufthansa includes Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings.
- HNA Group includes Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Hong Kong Air Cargo, Suparna Airlines, Tianjin Airlines and Tianjin Air Cargo.
- Silk Way West Airlines includes SW Italia.
- Singapore Airlines includes SilkAir.
- Volga-Dnepr Group includes AirBridgeCargo, Atran and Volga-Dnepr Airlines.
*The majority of DHL’s traffic is carried by carriers in which it has partial ownership, such as AeroLogic, Polar Air Cargo, Tasman Cargo and Venescar, or the numerous ACMI operators which operate on DHL’s behalf, such as ABX Air, Air Ghana, Allied Air, ASL Group, ATI, Aviastar-TU, Bluebird Nordic, Cargo Air, K-Mile, Kalitta Air, Raya Airways, Southern Air, and Swiftair.
Tomorrow, Part II will explore how much of a determinant changes to carrier freighter fleets will be to rankings over the next year by taking a closer look at the relationship between traffic growth (or decline) and developments in the freighter fleets.