Asia-Europe airports post record, two-way freight volumes

Asia-Europe airports post record, two-way freight volumes

Strong cargo volume filled up aircraft and airports during 2017. Photo credit: Cathay Pacific.

Air freight records are being set at airports on both ends of the Asia-Europe trade, further emphasising the stunning recovery in a cargo transportation sector that has been trapped in a profitability-sapping low yield environment for the past seven years.

However, the volume growth has come at a price: it kept air cargo terminals under intense pressure, leading to lengthy delays, especially in China and at some airports in northern Europe, during the end-of-year peak season. Shippers and forwarders reported delays of 15-20 days getting air cargo out of inland China destinations, with freight rates going sky high.

In Asia, a huge increase in air cargo leaving China and being transhipped through the region’s major hubs saw terminals handling more volume than ever before. The world’s busiest air cargo airport, Hong Kong, became the first airport in the world to handle more than 5 million tonnes (5.5 tons) in a year, posting a year-over-year growth of 9.2 percent.

Throughput at China’s busiest air cargo terminal, Pactl in Shanghai, reached a record 1.87 million tonnes in 2017, an increase of more than 12 percent compared with the previous year. Singapore’s Changi airport’s January-November throughput is 8 percent ahead of the full year 2016 figure and with the busy December peak season volume still to be added, Changi is also heading for a record 2017.

The recovery in the global economy and brisk exports of core industries such as semiconductors saw Seoul’s Incheon Airport recording a record high 2.92 million tonnes, growing 7.6 percent in 2017, while, according to Vietnam’s official news agency VNA, cargo volume in the Southeast Asian country rose 19 percent to 1.34 million tonnes.

Simon Wong, U-Freight chief executive officer said even though the fourth quarter was traditionally strong, much of the growth could be attributed to air cargo logistics associated with the boom in cross-border e-commerce activities across the planet.

“We have committed to investing in redevelopments at a number of our warehouses in China, Southeast Asia and North America to better equip them to handle the logistics associated with the ever-growing global e-commerce business,” he said.

“The e-commerce industry, led by China, is a new engine of growth for the global economy, and the value of global e-commerce transactions will only rise with increasing internet penetration and recognition.”

Angus Hind, air, sea and logistics director at Europa Worldwide, said the forwarder’s air freight growth had been “massive” over the past year. “We haven’t seen a peak like this for many years. The rates are sky high, especially rates from south China” he told “Rates out of Shanghai are coming down a bit but will rise again up to Chinese New Year.

At the European end of the Asia-Europe trade lane, strong growth and records were also being set. Annual throughput figures show that in southern Germany, Munich airport handled a record 379,000 tonnes, up more than 7 percent on 2016.

London Heathrow reported double-digit year-over-year growth of 10.2 percent, handling a record 1.7 million tonnes in 2017, while Paris Charles de Gaulle airport had handled more than 2 million tonnes by the end of November, up almost 3 percent.

Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport recorded a stunning 27.3 percent increase in air cargo in 2017 compared to the previous year, handling more than 300,000 tonnes as Europe demand kept its terminals working flat out.

Amsterdam Schiphol grew its volume by 5.4 percent to a record 1.75 million tonnes, even though fast growing traffic caused a slot shortage that forced some freighter operators to shift operations rival airports. A more flexible local rule prioritising unused slots for freighter aircraft will be ruled on by the Dutch government soon.

Germany’s leading air freight hub, Frankfurt, missed out on the December flood of cargo, with volume falling 4.5 percent compared with the same month in 2016 as a ground handling staff strike affected throughput. But even with the end-of-year setback, Frankfurt still grew its freight traffic for the full 2017 by 3.6 percent to 2.2 million tonnes.

John Manners Bell, CEO of Transport Intelligence said 2018 and the years to come would see companies largely refocusing around e-commerce as large platforms built out further on a global basis by giants such as Amazon, Alibaba and e-Bay.

“There is going to be strong air cargo growth that will be driven by small and medium-sized businesses based in many of the emerging markets,” he said. “There are issues to be overcome in making the trade frictionless and the World Customs Organisation is doing a lot to smooth the trade flows, but cross-border air cargo volume growth will be strong.”

Contact Greg Knowler at and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler