Digging deeper into the Top 50 for 2014

Yesterday we began our look at the world’s busiest cargo carriers in 2014, ranking the top fifty by share of international, domestic, and total cargo carried. You can read that post here, but today we go beyond “Top Carriers” and look at 2014 cargo traffic both by geographic region and by carrier type, and how those pictures have changed over the last five years.

Digging a little deeper into the data, some interesting trends emerge. The top chart at right compares the domestic, international, and total traffic flown by carriers in the major geographical regions in 2014 to the same data five years earlier. Carriers from the Asia-Pacific region continue to carry the largest share of international and total traffic, but their lead 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 it is made up of only five carriers – Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Saudia, and El Al.

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 bottom 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. The one group that has seen its share fall over the past five years is carriers that operate both passenger and freighter aircraft. So while it is true that carriers like Air France-KLM, IAG Cargo, and Finnair are either cutting back or abandoning freighter operation, there is no sign that “freighters are dead.”

And speaking of freighter operators, we conclude with a comment on one item that jumps out from the data: Cargolux is astonishingly high in the rankings. The Luxembourg-based all-cargo carrier has twenty-four 747 freighters, a mix of -8Fs and -400Fs. Yes, this is a big freighter fleet, but consider that many of the carriers 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. That Cargolux is the eighth-largest international cargo carrier, behind only the three big express companies and Emirates, Lufthansa, AF-KLM, and Korean, is a remarkable achievement.

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