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Hong Kong, Amsterdam airports lost cargo business in 2020

Middle tier airports Brussels and Leipzig/Halle saw cargo volumes increase

A pallet being loaded on a KLM flight. Cargo traffic fell nearly 9% last year at Amsterdam airport. (Photo: Royal Schiphol Group)

(Updated Jan. 18, 2 P.M. ET with data on Frankfurt Airport)

Full-year traffic figures from several airports last week reflect an upside down year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Passenger business slowed to a trickle with airlines closing most of their networks in the face of government lockdowns and other health measures, while cargo picked up the slack in some cases.

Hong Kong, the world’s largest cargo airport, experienced a 7% decline in cargo to 4.5 million tons, and served 87% fewer passengers. The airport handled 68,660 cargo flights during the year, an 18.3% surge compared to 2019. The damage to Hong Kong came in the loss of passenger traffic because so much cargo is transshipped from regional flights to long-haul passenger and freighter flights.

In Europe, Frankfurt Airport in Germany reported 73.4% and 8.5% declines in passenger and cargo volume for 2020. The ninth ranked airport in terms of international air cargo volume handled 1.9 million metric tons. Cargo volume grew 9% in December, the third consecutive month of gains, according to airport operator Fraport AG.

Germany’s second-largest cargo airport, Leipzig/Halle Airport, and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport both handled about 1.4 million tons of cargo in 2020, but they took different routes to that total. Airfreight grew 11.7% at Leipzig/Halle, setting an annual record for tonnage, while volume fell 8% at Schiphol. 

Leipzig/Halle passenger throughput was 80% less than in 2019, but freight growth has been strong since late spring culminating with 35% year-over-year volume growth in December (140,000 tons). Private airport operator Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG said the current year is shaping up strong too, headlined by medical goods, protective equipment, possible COVID-19 vaccines and e-commerce packages. 

Leipzig/Halle is home to DHL Express largest air hub and began hosting Amazon Air’s first European air hub in early November. Medical shipments are expected to increase once construction is completed on a nearby logistics center for disaster management. About 60 cargo airlines now serve the airport.

At Schiphol, freighters accounted for 61% of total volume, with 29% carried on passenger flights and 10% in passenger planes reassigned to cargo transport. Schiphol is the 14th busiest airport in the world for international air cargo.

The airport said inbound volume fell 4.7% and exports dropped 11.7% compared to 2019. The three biggest destinations for cargo tonnage were Shanghai, China, Doha, Qatar, and Chicago. 

Meanwhile, Brussels Airport reported 2.2% growth in cargo to 512,000 tons as passenger traffic plunged 74%. The strongest growth, 43%, came from all-cargo aircraft thanks to the arrival of several new carriers and the use of passenger aircraft as mini-freighters, which accounted for 30% to 40% of the full freighter activity. Express business also grew a healthy 18%. 

Imports, especially from Asia, increased, while exports decreased versus the same month a year ago. The airport is also at the forefront of COVID-19 shipments.

A 19% drop in cargo delivered by truck from other airports pulled Brussels Airport’s overall volume down by 3%.

In December, normally a strong cargo month, volumes decreased 3.4% compared to an unusually strong month in 2019.

In related news, Brussels Airport Co. has named Geert Aerts to succeed Steven Polmans as director of cargo and logistics in March. Aerts spent the past 17 years as a regional operations director for CAE Inc., where he managed a network of 16 flight simulator training centers and flight schools, including at Brussels Airport. The airport operator said his experience working for a global company with many stakeholders and solving problems for customers make him an ideal candidate for the job.

Polmans will depart Brussels Airport after 10 years, during which time he was instrumental in developing a regional cargo hub for pharmaceuticals and other goods,  and digital processes for connecting the local freight community. 

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]