Top Fifty Cargo Carriers in 2014

Today we begin a two-part analysis of the top cargo carriers in 2014. We will continue tomorrow, when we examine some interesting trends that emerge when we dig a little deeper into the data.

After years of steadily rising through the ranks, Emirates became the world’s top international cargo carrier in 2013, and that dominance continued in 2014 (see chart, below). The Dubai-based carrier leveraged the twin advantages of a favorable geographic location and a strong management focus on cargo to rack up 11.33 billion revenue tonne kilometers of international cargo flown, well ahead of the Lufthansa Group (10.72 billion RTKs) and Cathay Pacific (10.04 billion RTKs). Cargo problems have put Air France-KLM, the perennial top international cargo carrier until 2013, in the news lately But while the headlines make it seem like the Franco-Dutch carrier has all but given up on the cargo business, it nonetheless reported 9.82 million RTKs flown in 2014, well ahead of Korean Air, the fifth-busiest with 8.22 billion RTKs.

On the domestic side, the two big US-based integrators continue to dominate, with FedEx reporting 8.5 billion RTKs flown in the US alone – more than all but the top four carriers reported internationally. UPS, as usual, was not far behind FedEx, reporting 5.28 billion RTKs – over three times the 1.65 billion RTKs flown by China Southern Airlines, the leading non-express carrier in domestic traffic.

And given that FedEx also reported 7.57 billion RTKs of international traffic, the US integrator continued its long run as the world’s top total cargo carrier, followed by Emirates, UPS, Lufthansa, and Cathay Pacific.

The chart below shows our best estimate of the international, domestic, and total cargo traffic (including mail and both scheduled and charter freight) flown by the top fifty carriers worldwide. We say “best estimate” for several reasons.

  • First, there is no single source for accurate cargo traffic data. Different sources will often report different totals for the same carrier, and carriers do not always report their traffic the same way. Our main sources were reports compiled and issued by IATA and the US DOT, as well as statistics published by the carriers themselves.
  • Second, not all carriers report their traffic. Mnay of these non-reporting carriers are not particularly significant compared to the big players, but some would almost certainly make the top-fifty list if they did report. Among these, for example, are Yangtze River Express (YRE), which operates three 747-400Fs, an A330-200F, and fourteen 737-300Fs. Including YRE would significantly boost the total of its majority owner, Hainan Group. Other significant cargo carriers not reporting their traffic data include Turkey-based MNG Airlines, Azerbaijan’s Silk Way, as well as regional specialists such as Sweden-based West Atlantic and Ireland-based ASL group.
  • Third, there is no easy way to show the huge cargo presence of DHL Express. DHL owns, or is a joint-venture partner in, several airlines, many of which do not report their traffic. On top of which, unlike FedEx and UPS, DHL moves a significant percentage of its shipments using purchased or leased space on non-affiliated carriers worldwide. For purposes of this report, we have added up the traffic flown by DHL Air, DHL International, ABX Air, AeroLogic, Air Hong Kong, Polar Air Cargo, and Southern Air, and show it in the chart as “DHL Express.” This under-represents DHL’s total by a considerable margin (but hides some amount of non-DHL traffic carried by these airlines, particularly ABX), but at least provides a hint of the impact of the German integrator,

And finally, in presenting the data, we have chosen to show merged, or about-to-be-merged, carriers as single entities. So Lufthansa, for example, includes not only Lufthansa Cargo, but also the cargo activities of Swiss, Austrian, and Germanwings. Other groups shown under a single name include:

  • Air France/KLM/Martinair
  • Avianca/Avianca Brasil
  • British Airways/Iberia
  • Cathay/Dragonair
  • LAN/TAM

Despite all the above caveats, and given that the top fifty airlines carry well over 90% of total cargo traffic, we feel that the chart provides a reasonably accurate picture of the air cargo scene in 2014.

Top Cargo Carriers 2014_v3

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