Top 40 Cargo Airports for 2015

The Airports Council International (ACI) said that, in 2015, airports worldwide handled a total of 106 million tonnes of cargo, up 2.6% over the 2014 total. The forty busiest airports handled 59% of the overall total.

A chart showing both total freight and international freight handled by the forty busiest cargo airports is below, but first we look at the numbers on a regional basis. The chart at right shows the regional breakdown for the top forty airports, and, as usual, airports in the Asia/Pacific region led the way, handling 41.4% and 43.2% of the top-forty total and international cargo, respectively.

Looking at the worldwide total, rather than just the top forty, ACI provided the following summary:

  1. Asia-Pacific (41.1 million tonnes, up 2.3% over 2014)
  2. North America (30 million tonnes, up 3.1% over 2014)
  3. Europe (18.9 million tonnes, up 0.5% over 2014)
  4. Middle East (8.5 million tonnes, up 9.9% over 2014)
  5. Latin America-Caribbean (4.9 million tonnes, down 1.3% over 2014)
  6. Africa (2.1 million tonnes, up 3.5% over 2014)

Turning to individual airports, the chart at right shows the top forty for both total cargo and international cargo. For the top twenty in each category we have comparative rankings from the previous year (in parentheses in the “Rank” column), and as can be seen, there was relatively little change from last year. Most of the top twenty either maintained their positions, or shuffled up or down by one or two spots.

The biggest jump was Doha’s Hamad International (DOH, home of Qatar Airways) moving from 24th to 20th spot in the total rankings and from 17th to 14th in the international rankings. The other big jump was at Chicago’s O’Hare International (ORD), which reported its total cargo handle up 15.6% and its international freight handle up 21.0%. Chicago has been an important cargo gateway to North America for some time, and the sudden growth cannot be explained by the activity of any single carrier. However, after years of congestion, ORD was in a position in 2015 to enjoy the benefit of runway expansion and other capacity growth.

Whatever the numbers on the chart, when it comes to airport rankings, “Top 40” or “Top 20” or “Top whatever” must be treated with considerable skepticism. That is not to say that the numbers are flawed, but rather that an airport’s position in or out of the top forty does not provide definitive information about trade flows.

Consider Dubai International (DXB). It ranks fifth in total cargo, but if you look down a bit, you will see Dubai World Central (DWC) in twenty-seventh place. These airports are just a few kilometers apart, and in 2014, the Dubai government moved all freighter traffic from DXB to the newly built DWC and created an in-bond highway connecting the two so that carriers could interline their belly and main-deck freight. DXB and DWC are really just parts of one big airport, and if you add the almost 900,000 tonnes handled at DWC to the DXB total, the combination would jump to third place, behind FedEx’s Memphis hub (MEM), and ahead of Shanghai Pudong (PVG).

Or perhaps not, because Shanghai also has two major airports, and adding the freight (mostly domestic) handled at Hongqiao International (SHA) to Pudong International (PVG) might move it ahead of the Dubai pair.

Another example is Tokyo: The city’s second airport, Haneda (HND), handled  1.17 million tonnes of total cargo in 2015. Add that to the 2.1 million tonnes handled at Narita (NRT) and Tokyo moves up, shoulder-to-shoulder with Dubai and Shanghai.

All of which leads to a second observation: In terms of airfreight, Dubai and Tokyo are fundamentally different. Whereas much of the cargo flying into and out of Tokyo is destined for, or originated in, Tokyo and its environs, most of the cargo moving into and out of Dubai is actually in transit between other origin and destination points. And then there are airports like Memphis (MEM) and Louisville (SDF), which are the hubs for the FedEx and UPS hub-and-spoke express networks – different again from airports in either Tokyo or Dubai. Not that one of those types of airport is better than the other, but they are completely different, and simply knowing their total tonnage handled only tells part of their story.

If you are interested in learning more about the trends underlying the changes in the air freight business in 2015 and ahead in 2016, register now to join us at the Cargo Facts Symposium in Miami 10 – 12 October. Go to to register or get more information.


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