According to Airports Council International, total cargo handled (loaded and unloaded freight and mail) by the 1,095 airports that have so far reported their full-year 2014 results was up 4.5% over 2012 to 100.5 million tonnes. International freight handled was up 5.4% to 61.8 million tonnes, accounting for 61.5% of the total volume.
As shown in the top chart, the growth was led by airports in the Middle East, which reported their combined handle up 8.9% to 7.1 million tonnes, driven by the increasing importance of Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Jeddah as cargo hubs connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa. However, while these Middle East airports saw strong cargo growth, there are relatively few of them and their contribution to the worldwide total is small, accounting for just 7.0%. Worth noting, though, is that since the Middle East airports handle relatively little domestic cargo, their share of total international freight is considerably higher, at 10.5%.
Whereas in 2013 airports in Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific all reported similar, very slight growth (0.1% to 1.0%), this year their growth was stronger, and not so evenly matched. Asia-Pacific airports reported their international freight handle up 6.2%, and their total cargo handle up 6.0%. North American airports reported a similar 6.6% increase in their international freight handle, and a somewhat smaller 3.3% increase in total cargo handled (indicating that domestic growth was relatively weak). European airports, like their Asian counterparts, reported similar gains in both international freight and total cargo, but to a lesser degree – up 3.5% and 3.4%, respectively.
Turning from the worldwide results to the top twenty individual airports, we see very little change from last year, with no airport moving up or down in the rankings by more than two positions. In the total cargo rankings, the top four airports remain unchanged from 2013. Anchorage swapped fifth and sixth places with Dubai (the opposite of last year when Dubai entered the top five for the first time, nudging Anchorage into sixth spot), but this is only because the Dubai government moved all freighter traffic from Dubai International (DXB) to the new Dubai World Central Airport (DWC) just a few kilometers down the road. Add the almost 760,000 tonnes handled at DWC to the DXB total, and Dubai would move up to fourth place, just behind Shanghai Pudong (PVG). And similar arithmetic would move Dubai into the second spot in the international freight ranking, though still well behind Hong Kong.
Which leads us to the observation that these airport rankings, while they offer significant information about individual airports, offer much less information about trade flows. For example, consider Tokyo: The city’s second airport, Haneda (HND), handled just over 1 million tonnes of total cargo in 2014. Add that to the 2.1 million tonnes handled at Narita (NRT) and Tokyo moves up, shoulder to shoulder with Dubai.
Which, of course, 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 very different, and simply knowing their total tonnage handled only tells part of their story.
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