This year has certainly been a difficult one for air cargo, with carriers and industry associations reporting steady year-over-year declines throughout 2019.
Looking back to 2018, however, the writing was already on the wall that mounting international trade tensions would have major impacts on air cargo traffic across the world, as can be seen in the ranking of the world’s top 40 airports by cargo volume handled during 2018. According to the annual World Airport Traffic Report from Airports Council International (ACI), global air cargo volumes rose only 3.4% in 2018 to a total of 122.7 million tonnes of cargo handled, after contractions in growth late in the year tempered the effect of stronger growth early in 2018.
Of course, the contractions in cargo handled that began during the second half of 2018 have continued into the first half of 2019. “Air cargo has felt an even greater impact as volumes handled by the world’s major airports contracted by 3.2% in the first half of 2019,” said ACI World Director General Angela Gittens in a statement on the 2018 WATR. “A resolution to the trade disputes will help put aviation markets back on track,” she added, although with a new round of tariffs going into effect only last month, it seems doubtful that such a resolution will occur this year.
Returning to 2018’s performance reports from the top 40 cargo airports reveals a few other data points indicating the difficulties currently facing global trade and the operators that help facilitate it. While the prior year’s growth was reflected in the fact that only two of the top 40 airports reported y-o-y declines in cargo handle during 2017, nine of the top 40 airports reported declining volumes for 2018. The year was also marked by some volatility, as 27 of the top 40 airports shifted in the ranking for 2018, up from only 21 shifts in 2017. While many changes were related to protectionist sentiment’s impact on global trade, other factors – some challenging, but others indicative of areas of optimism within global airfreight – helped shape cargo flows at global airports in 2018.