Europe’s airports got busier in 2016

Cargolux 747-8F taking off

A Cargolux 747-8F taking off.

Almost unanimously, Europe’s major airports have reason to rejoice as they reflect on their 2016 cargo handles, which on average, were up 6.8% over 2015. Though many of the region’s legacy carriers grew in parallel, increased tonnage at European airports in 2016 was strongly reinforced by the influx of new flights from outside carriers.

We focus today on the case of Luxembourg Airport, which reported its 2016 cargo handle up 8.2% over 2015, to 821,000 tonnes. Because the wealthy landlocked city state produces virtually no commodities requiring export by air, and relies almost exclusively on road feeder services to bring in cargo from other parts of Europe, its success as a cargo airport depends on its ability to efficiently truck-in freight from the broader region.

LUX cargo terminals

An aerial view of the cargo apron at Luxembourg Airport.

Luxembourg Airport cited three factors which contributed to its strong performance in 2016: strong demand in the second half of 2016, a stellar peak season, and Qatar Airways’ expansion at the airport. During the second half of 2016, the Doha-based carrier boosted its weekly freighter flights from 6 to 17. This helps explain the airports 8% growth in tonnage during the 3Q16, and the subsequent 16% surge in 4Q16. December was the busiest month for cargo terminal operator LuxairCargo in 2016, with y-o-y handle up a whopping 27%.

Returning to QR Cargo’s expansion at LUX, we note the carrier’s increasing presence at the airport is far from over. Last year QR Cargo boss Uli Ogiermann designated Luxembourg as the site for a European cargo hub, and has already expressed interest in increasing flight frequencies once more space is available on the cargo apron. Lux airport currently has parking for eight 747-8Fs, and expects to add room for four more by mid-2018. Future expansion could add four additional parking spots. QR Cargo’s rapid expansion in Luxembourg is made possible because of the fifth freedom rights the between Luxembourg and Qatar that were negotiated in the past when Qatar Airways acquired a stake in Cargolux (a stake that was given up a year later).

With the additional flights QR Cargo added to Luxembourg in 2016, the carrier boosted its market share at the airport to 5.4%, with 44,000 tonnes. Hometown carrier Cargolux meanwhile, maintained its position as the top cargo carrier at the airport, having moved 675,000 tonnes through LuxairCargo in 2016. Although Cargolux has not yet released 2016 cargo volumes, Cargo Facts believes Europe’s largest all-cargo carrier was a major contributor to the airport’s second-half results.

Similarly to QR Cargo’s gravitation towards Luxembourg, AirBridgeCargo surfaced as a major player at Amsterdam and Frankfurt in 2016. The Moscow-based carrier recently announced it was the number two player at each airport last year, having flown more than a thousand flights in and out of each airport in 2016.  Only KLM Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo moved greater volumes at AMS and FRA respectively. Referring to our analysis of December 2016 traffic figures, Amsterdam reported its December handle grew by 10.4% y-o-y, compared to an 8.4% contraction in cargo traffic by the top cargo carrier at the airport, KLM.

Lufthansa meanwhile, reported traffic growth that was more on-par with that of its main Frankfurt hub. For the month of December, Frankfurt’s cargo handle increased 7.6% y-o-y, compared to the 8.3% spike in cargo traffic reported by its top cargo tenant at the airport, Lufthansa Cargo.

Other notable performers for the month of December includeBrussels Airport, which saw its cargo handle rise 22.0% y-o-y in December, to 49,519 tonnes (see What stands between Brussels Airport and another great cargo year for more details).  Liege Airport meanwhile, saw volumes grow 4.8% y-o-y in December to 60,926 tonnes. For the year 2016, volumes rose a modest 1.7% to 649,829 tonnes, a sign that FedEx’s acquisition of TNT Express has yet to negatively impact TNT’s largest air hub in Europe. Additionally, Liege continues to woo new flights from carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines.

As our December Analysis has already shown, Phenomenal 2016 year-end cargo results were not limited to European airports, and newly-released data has since reinforced this conclusion. North America’s Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG, DHL’s US hub) reported its largest cargo handle ever in December at 74,000 tonnes. And recently released November data from the Civil Aviation Authority of China show that Chinese carriers also shared in the boom, with cargo volumes up 9.5% year-over-year to 642,000 tonnes. We expect that when the CAAC releases December 2016 data, y-o-y growth for the month will be on par, or even higher.

Those interested in learning more about where air freight is headed in 2017, should join us at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, 25 – 26 April.  To register, or for more information, go to

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