Cargo traffic continues to grow in December

When we posted our first glimpse of December’s cargo results from a few early-reporting carriers and airports our prediction was that results from all – or at least most of – the major players would follow the trends they had established throughout the year, and that the overall trend of solid but not spectacular growth established in recent months would continue in December.

A detailed analysis of the cargo performance of some of the major carriers and airports in December follows below, but to summarize: our prediction was mostly right, and we continue to believe that when IATA releases its detailed analysis of worldwide freight demand in 2013 at the end of the month it will show growth in air cargo traffic for the full year of 2013 to be about 2% over 2012.

Now for the details…

Asia Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways reported December cargo traffic down 4.4% y-o-y to 813 million RTKs – quite a change from the 8.1% gain reported in November, but not far off its general pattern of moderate ups and downs. For the full year 2013, Cathay’s cargo traffic was down 2.1% to 8.75 billion RTKs. Discussing the December results, Cathay Pacific General Manager Cargo Sales & Marketing Mark Sutch said: “After seeing strong demand throughout November, the seasonal airfreight peak began to fizzle out in mid-December. There were some late charter requests to capture last-minute pre-Christmas demand on the transpacific lanes, but by the third week in the month we had reduced our freighter schedule to pre-peak levels. We took delivery of three more Boeing 747-8F freighters in December as part of our ongoing drive to improve the efficiency of our operation, particularly on the key transpacific routes.”

Hong Kong International Airport reported cargo volume in December down slightly (0.3%) y-o-y to 372,000 tonnes. Export volume was flat with December 2012 at 236,000 tonnes, while import volume declined 0.8% to 136,000 tonnes. For the full year, HKIA’s cargo handle was up 2.4% to 4.1 million tonnes.

Beijing-based Air China reported December cargo traffic down 3.6% y-o-y to 437 million RTKs. The carrier gave no indication of the reason for the drop, but said International traffic was down 4.7% to 294 million RTKs and domestic traffic was down 0.7% to 130 million RTKs. Air China’s cargo traffic for the full year was almost flat with 2012, up just 0.3% to 5.02 billion RTKs.

Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines continued its recent pattern of strong growth, reporting December cargo traffic up 9.3% y-o-y to 437 million RTKs. International traffic was up 9.7% to 335 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was up 9.1% to 91 million RTKs. For the full year, China Eastern’s cargo traffic was up 3.2% to 4.87 billion RTKs.

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines continued its strong performance of recent months, reporting December cargo traffic up 11.4% y-o-y to 397 million RTKs. International traffic was up 13.0% to 252 million RTKs, while domestic traffic was up 98.9% to 143 million RTKs. For the full year China Southern’s cargo traffic was up 4.6% to 4.33 billion RTKs.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminals Co. Ltd (Pactl, the biggest cargo handler at PVG) reported its December handle up 13.3% y-o-y to 119,000 tonnes. This is the fourth month of steadily increasing y-o-y gains after eight months of mostly disappointing results, and gives some hope that other carriers and airports will also report strengthening cargo volumes. Pactl’s International volume was up 13.6% to 111,000 tonnes, while the much smaller domestic volume rose 9.9% to 8,000 tonnes (most of Shanghai’s domestic cargo moves through nearby Hongqiao Airport). For the full year of 2013, Pactl’s handle was up 3.7% to 1.25 million tonnes.

Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals (Hactl) reported its December handle down 40.3% y o y to 153,000 tonnes, but both the tonnage and the y o y percentage change are effectively meaningless, because Cathay Pacific (long Hactl’s biggest customer by far) is now handling all of its own cargo at the terminal it opened earlier this year. As noted above, Hong Kong International Airport reported its December handle almost flat with December 2012, and that, rather than Hactl’s drop of over 40%, is what gives a true picture of cargo activity in Hong Kong. For the full year 2013, Hactl’s handle was down 14.9% to 2.36 million tonnes.

Singapore Airlines continued a two-year trend of declining demand, reporting December cargo traffic down 5.1% y-o-y to 536 million RTKs. For the full year 2013 SIA’s cargo traffic was down 5.1% to 6.49 billion RTKs.

Europe & Middle East

Lufthansa Cargo reported its December traffic up 2.5% y-o-y to 695 million RTKs. This is the eighth consecutive month of positive results for the carrier, although not as strong as November’s 5.5% increase. For the Lufthansa Group as a whole, December cargo traffic was up 1.8% to 827 million RTKs. Lufthansa reported strong growth in air freight demand on the Asia-Pacific lane (up 9.8% to 367 million RTKs), but saw traffic decline on its other major lane, the trans-Atlantic, where cargo traffic was down 1.9% to 357 million RTKs. RTKs. For the full year 2013, Lufthansa Cargo’s traffic was flat with 2012 at 8.73 billion RTKs, while Group cargo traffic was up 0.4% to 10.29 billion RTKs.

Air France-KLM reported December cargo traffic down 3.7% y-o-y to 848 million RTKs. Traffic was down on all major trade lanes, and the December result sees Air France-KLM continuing its long-term pattern of mid-single-digit declines. For the full year of 2013 Air France-KLM’s cargo traffic was down 4.6% to 10.09 billion RTKs.

International Airlines Group (parent of British Airways and Iberia) reported December cargo traffic down 5.5% y o y to 478 million RTKs, returning to its year-long pattern of significant declines after a slight y o y gain in November. Subsidiary carrier BA reported cargo traffic down 4.3% to 379 million RTKs, while Iberia saw cargo traffic decline 10.0% to 99 million RTKs (it’s best performance in a terrible year). For the full year, IAG’s cargo traffic was down 7.0% to 5.65 billion RTKs. Breaking the full year performance down by carrier, BA’s cargo traffic was down 5.0% to 4.65 billion RTKs while Iberia’s cargo traffic fell 15.3% to just 1.01 billion RTKs.

Turkish Airlines continues to report exceptionally strong results, with December cargo volume up 21.8% y o y to 54,000 tonnes. For the full year, Turkish reported cargo volume up 20.1% to 565,000 tonnes.

Etihad Airways reported its December cargo volume up 22.5% y-o-y to 42,000 tonnes. While this looks like a very big gain, it pales in comparison to the 52% increase in November. For the full year, Etihad reported cargo volume up 32% to 487,000 tonnes. Commenting on the strong performance, the carrier said: “Established markets such as China, Hong Kong and India were top performers, in addition to expanding markets such as the Netherlands and the United States.”

Frankfurt Airport (FRA) reported its December freight handle up 2.6% y-o-y to 170,000 tonnes, continuing a trend of small gains and small declines that began in January. Overall, however, the trend has been slightly positive and for the full year 2013, FRA’s handle was up 1.4% to 2.05 million tonnes. However, while the year-to-date handle is up slightly over 2012, it is still 2.2% below 2007 – that is, FRA is handling less freight now than it did six years ago.

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported its December handle down 1.1% y-o-y to 119,000 tonnes. For the full year, LHR’s handle was down 2.8% to 1.42 million tonnes.


The big three non-express carriers in the US reported mixed results in December, with American Airlines continuing its strong growth, while Delta and United reported declines. In the Southern hemisphere, LATAM (which carries more cargo than any of the US combination carriers) continued to report declining demand.

LATAM Airlines Group (parent of LAN and TAM) saw its recent trend of declining cargo traffic accelerate in December, with traffic down 6.7% y-o-y to 399 million RTKs, as capacity declined 7.9%. As was the case in November, the company said the decrease in capacity was “a result of a reduced freighter operation, in addition to decreased availability in the bellies of passenger aircraft,” and that the decrease in cargo traffic “was driven by weaker imports into Latin America.” For the full year 2013, LATAM’s cargo traffic was down 0.5% to 4.47 billion RTKs.

United Airlines reported December cargo traffic down 1.2% y-o-y to 288 million RTKs. For the full year, United’s cargo traffic was down 10.0% to 3.23 billion RTKs.

Delta Air Lines reported December cargo traffic down 1.8% y-o-y to 276 million RTKs. For the full year, Delta’s cargo traffic was down 1.4% to 3.43 billion RTKs.

American Airlines reported December cargo traffic up 12.9% y-o-y to 247 million RTKs. For the full year, American’s cargo traffic was up 4.3% to 2.68 billion RTKs.

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