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Cargo levels remain below 2019 at key European, Asian airports

Smaller Brussels airport experiences airfreight boom

Schiphol Airport suffered a 9% drop in cargo volume last month. (Photo: Royal Schiphol Group)

Three major cargo airports in Asia and Europe continue to lose volume because of the paucity of passenger flights during the coronavirus pandemic, but the situation is marginally better than in early summer. 

Hong Kong International Airport, the largest cargo airport in the world, has gradually increased freight volumes since the bottom of the COVID crisis earlier this year, but September volumes slipped slightly from the prior month. The Hong Kong Airport Authority said cargo tonnage fell 4.4% year-over-year, to 380,000 tons, despite a 25% spike in freighter movements. In August, cargo volume contracted 3.5%. For the year, cargo is down 8.5%.

The main culprit is the lack of passenger flights. Only 100,000 passengers passed through Hong Kong’s airport in September, 98% fewer than the prior year.

The Hong Kong government has maintained some of the strictest entry restrictions in the world for non-residents, as well as immigration restrictions and quarantine measures for travelers. The lack of passenger flights has primarily impacted transshipments from the region. Cargo throughput to and from Southeast Asia and Mainland China experienced the most significant decreases during the month.

Meanwhile, the airport authority extended its relief package for airport tenants for an additional two months until the end of 2020. The relief measures include the full waiver of parking charge for idle passenger aircraft and airbridge fees; reduction of passenger aircraft landing charges; reduced fees for ramp handling, maintenance and airside vehicles; as well as rental reduction for terminal tenants covering lounges and offices; and concessions on franchise fees for aviation support services such as plane fuelling. 

Heathrow Airport in London, the 18th largest cargo airport in the world, this week reported a 28.2% fall in year-over-year cargo volume during September due to the lack of long-haul flights. For the first three quarters, cargo volume shrank 31.7% to 811,800 metric tons.

Long-haul flights continue to be restricted by international border closures and the U.K. is tightening rules on public gatherings as the country experiences a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Consultancy York Aviation estimates that the U.K. economy is losing $41 million per day because air travel with the U.S. is effectively closed.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one spot behind Heathrow in the 2019 cargo rankings, experienced a 9% drop in cargo tonnage last month despite a 65.7% increase in freighter flights (2,096 total). Passenger flights declined 53.2% and passenger traffic was down almost 80%. 

The increasing number of all-cargo flights are mainly on the North America and Asia trade laines, but other continents saw an increase too compared with 2019, operator Royal Schiphol Group said. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Brussels Airport posted an 18.9% increase in cargo demand. Brussels is smaller, with less than half the volume of Schiphol and Heathrow. Nonetheless, cargo volumes have grown for four consecutive months, aided by a 33.8% increase in e-commerce demand and more flights by express delivery companies

The number of passenger flights decreased by 76.5%, while the number of cargo flights increased by 40%.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]