Air freight traffic disappoints in December first look

The disappointing November results revealed in last month’s first look were apparently a preview for an overall diminished peak season for air freight, as volumes and traffic declined across all regions. Many of the same culprits behind November’s year-over-year decline – notably an increasingly uncertain global trade environment, faltering economic performance across multiple economies, and the upcoming Brexit – are likely behind most of the weakness that emerged during the second half of 2018 and that dominated the year’s peak season. Whether the trends will continue in 2019 remains to be seen, but considering the current impasse in negotiations between the US and China, and the ongoing government shutdown in the US that is beginning to affect aviation across the country, we will not be surprised to see year-over-year comparisons continue to suffer in the near-term.

To look more closely at regional performance for December:

Asia Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways reported December cargo traffic down 5.9% y-o-y to 1.04 billion RTKs, as traffic declined both y-o-y and month-over-month in December. For the full year, Cathay’s cargo traffic was still up 4.2% for the full year, to 12.12 billion RTKs.

Beijing-based Air China Cargo reported December traffic up 2.8% y-o-y, to 702 million RTKs. The carrier ended the year with traffic up 5.8% over 2017.  Air China’s international cargo traffic continues to drive growth, with traffic up 3.9% y-o-y for the month, and 7.2% for the year.

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines reported a 3% y-o-y drop in December cargo traffic,  to 652 million RTKs. International traffic fell 5% y-o-y, to 503 million RTKs.  Domestic and regional cargo traffic both rose slightly for the month of December, up 3% and 4% respectively. Accordingly, overall cargo tonnage dropped only 1%, to 151,000 tonnes. Despite the poor December performance, China Southern finished 2018 well ahead of 2017, with overall traffic up 7%, to 7.5 billion RTKs. Overall cargo and mail tonnage was down 1.8% y-o-y in November to 152,280 tonnes – a 5.3% month-to-month increase.

Taiwan-based China Airlines reported December cargo traffic down 0.7% y-o-y to 531 million RTKs, which was nevertheless the highest traffic month for China Airlines in 2018. Through 2018, China Airlines’ cargo traffic increased 2.9% over 2017 to 5.91 billion RTKs. Cargo yields were up 7.9% from December 2017 and 11.9% for the full year.

Taiwan-based EVA Air reported a 6.2% y-o-y decline in traffic for December, to 298 million FTKs – the lowest traffic month since February 2018. Tonnage also declined 5.8% to roughly 53,500 tonnes. For the full calendar year, EVA’s cargo traffic was down 0.7% y-o-y.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) reported its December cargo handle down 5.5% y-o-y to 448,000 tonnes. Year-to-date, HKG’s handle was up 1.5%. HKG attributed the decline in cargo traffic to global economic uncertainty with traffic to and from Europe and South Asia declining most significantly during December.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminal Co Ltd (Pactl, the largest cargo handler at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport) reported its December cargo handle down 5.8% y-o-y to about 163,000 tonnes, for the lowest cargo handle at the airport since September. The decline was mostly the result of falling inbound international cargo volumes, which fell 13.5% in December and declined y-o-y nearly every month during the second half of 2018. For the full year, cargo handled by PACTL was still up 1.8% at 1.91 million tonnes.

South Korea-based Incheon Airport’s (ICN’s) cargo handle fell 5.2% y-o-y in December to 245,139 tonnes. From November to December, volumes declined 6.2%. For 2018 overall, ICN’s cargo handle was up 1.0% y-o-y to about 2.95 million tonnes.

Europe & Middle East

Lufthansa Group reported a slight 0.4% y-o-y increase in December cargo traffic, to 899 million RTKs, which also makes for a 5.7% month-to-month decline in traffic. For the full year, cargo traffic was up by 0.8% to 10.9 billion RTKs.

Air France-KLM reported a 1.4% increase in December cargo traffic to 766 million RTKs, with Air France reporting a 3.3% y-o-y increase and KLM reporting a 0.1% decrease in cargo traffic for the month. Cargo traffic for the full year roseby 0.7% y-o-y, to 8.7 billion RTKs.

International Airlines Group reported a 2.7% y-o-y increase in cargo traffic for December, to 497 million RTKs. Traffic declined from November, however, falling 2.4% month-to-month. For the full year, traffic was down by 0.9% to 5.7 billion RTKs. Of the group’s subsidiaries, Iberia grew its y-o-y traffic by 3.4% in 2018, while British Airways’ traffic fell 2.3% in 2018.

Turkish Airlines extended its long-running, double-digit growth streak through the end of the year, with a 19.4% increase in cargo volumes for December to about 129,000 tonnes. For the full year, the carrier’s volumes increased 24.8%. While still strong, growth has undeniably slowed from 2017, when the carrier posted a 25.5% increase.

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported a 1.9% increase in its y-o-y cargo handle for December, to 184,000 tonnes. For the full year, FRA’s cargo handle fell 0.7% to 2.21 million tonnes.

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported a 7.9% decrease y-o-y in its December cargo handle, to 132,000 tonnes, for the slowest traffic month at the airport since February 2017. Volumes at the airport were down 0.8% for the full year, compared to the same period in 2017.


Chile-headquartered LATAM Airlines Group’s December traffic fell 3.6% y-o-y to 315 million RTKs, for a slight month-to-month gain from November. For the full year of 2018, cargo traffic increased 4.7% y-o-y, to 3.6 billion RTKs.

Delta Air Lines’ December cargo traffic declined 7.8% y-o-y at 235 million RTKs. For 2018, the carrier’s traffic rose 0.9% to 3.2 billion RTKs.

United Airlines’ cargo traffic fell 0.4% y-o-y in December to 442 million RTKs. For the full year, the carrier reported a 3.3% increase in traffic to 5 billion RTKs.

Those interested in learning more about trends in air freight are invited to join us Cargo Facts EMEA, to be held 4-6 February at The Westin Grand Frankfurt, where a panel discussion will be dedicated to the topic. To register or for more information, visit

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