What do the February cargo numbers tell us?

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As we have often pointed out, the fact that the Lunar New Year holiday (which shuts down production in much of China) can fall in either January or February makes year-over-year comparisons for either of those months in isolation unreliable. Data for the combined January/February period usually provide a more accurate picture, but that may not be the case this year.

As we approach the end of March, many of the world’s major cargo carriers, airports, and associations have reported their February statistics, but the results, while interesting, are not entirely clear. One problem is that the picture is clouded by the fact that the comparison period (early 2010) was the height of the bounce-back from the world-wide recession that began in 2008.

There is a considerable amount of data presented below, and at first glance it shows no consistent pattern. Some carriers (Lufthansa, for example) have reported astonishingly strong results. Others have taken a beating. If there is any real trend, it is that while growth in demand for air freight generally decelerated, or in some cases turned negative, in February, it was Asian carriers that were hit hardest, while their competitors elsewhere escaped relatively unharmed. But even within this very broad generalization there are exceptions. A sampling of the February and year-to-date data is shown below, grouped by geographical region.


  • The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines reported international scheduled cargo traffic flown by the region’s airlines down 4.2% y-o-y in February to 4.23 billion RTKs. This follows a January increase of 6.5%. For the first two months of 2011, AAPA reported international cargo traffic up 1.7% to 9.21 billion RTKs.
  • Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways reported February cargo traffic up 3.3% y-o-y to 661 million RTKs. For the combined January/February period, Cathay’s cargo traffic was up 8.8% to 1.48 billion RTKs.
  • While Cathay’s cargo numbers may have stayed positive in February Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals, which handles most of the cargo at Cathay’s hub airport, reported its February handle down 9.1%, after an 8.2% gain in January.
  • Beijing-based Air China certainly felt the effects of the February slump, reporting cargo traffic for the month down 15.8% y-o-y to 248 million RTKs. For the combined January/February period, Air China’s cargo traffic was up very slightly (0.4%) to 635 million RTKS.
  • Apparently almost immune to the effects of the demand drop, Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines reported February cargo traffic up 19.7% y-o-y to 203 million RTKs. For the combined January/February period, China Southern’s cargo traffic was up 30.9% to 532 million RTKs.

Europe & Middle East:

  • Air France-KLM reported February cargo traffic down 3.1% to 840 million RTKs, but a relatively stronger January pulled the carrier to a 2.8% increase for the first two months of 2011.
  • Lufthansa Cargo went from a very strong January to an even stronger February, reporting cargo traffic up 22.5% y-o-y in January and up 23.9% in February.
  • Frankfurt Airport (Lufthansa’s main hub) reported its February cargo handle up 4.3% y-o-y to 171,000 tonnes. For the first two months of this year, FRA’s handle was up 6.0% to 340,000 tonnes.
  • British Airways and Iberia, now merged as the International Airlines Group, reported combined cargo traffic up 9.6% in February, and up 7.6% for the combined first two months of the year.
  • Istanbul-based Turkish Airlines reported February cargo volume up 12.1% y-o-y to 27,050 tonnes. While this is obviously healthy growth, it is less strong than January’s 22.6% increase. For the first two months of this year, Turkish Airlines’ cargo volume was up 17.0% to 53,195 tonnes.


  • Latin America’s biggest cargo carrier, Chile-based LAN Airlines, reported February cargo traffic up 16.2% y-o-y to 270 million RTKs. For the first two months of 2011, LAN’s cargo traffic was up 14.4% to 539 million RTKs.
  • Delta Air Lines, which appears to be taking market share from its two biggest North American competitors, reported February cargo traffic up 12.1% y-o-y to 272 million RTKs. For the first two months of 2011 Delta’s cargo traffic was up 15.6% to 539 million RTKs.
  • United Airlines (now including Continental) reported February cargo traffic down 3.3% y-o-y to 315 million RTKs. For the first two months of 2011, United’s cargo traffic was down 3.1% to 635 million RTKs.
  • American Airlines’ February cargo traffic was down 2.7% to 202 million RTKs, and it’s two-month 2011 total was down 1.5% to 403 million RTKs
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