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Korean Air keeps cargo momentum going in 3rd quarter

Cargo represents more than 50% of carrier’s total revenues

Korean Air operates a large fleet of Boeing 747 freighters. (Photo: Korean Air)

Korean Air generated $1.3 billion in cargo revenue during the third quarter, accounting for more than half the carrier’s total sales and 12% more than the same period a year ago. 

Friday’s impressive result was in spite of softness in the air cargo market due to inflation and other pressures on consumer demand. Airlines typically see higher shipment volumes by late September ahead of big holiday shopping events around the world.

Korean and Lufthansa, another large combination carrier, bucked the pattern of airlines reporting slightly lower cargo revenue for the third quarter. 

Korean Air said it was able to sustain higher yields partly due to supply restrictions on European routes caused by Russia’s closure of its airspace to Western carriers. It also continues to operate cargo-only passenger flights, although much fewer than during the height of the pandemic and early this year. And it expanded its freighter network to Chicago and Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio.

Korean Air is the fifth largest cargo airline by throughput, according to the International Air Transport Association. It has four Boeing 747-400, seven 747-8 and 12 777 freighters and also moves goods in the lower deck of its passenger fleet. 

A recovery in passenger demand following the relaxation of travel restrictions, such as prearrival COVID-19 testing, significantly boosted the passenger side of the business. Korean Air boasted total revenue of $2.57 billion, according to interim results.

Korean Air generated a record $2.2 billion in cargo revenue during the fourth quarter of 2021 — an astounding 92% of the company’s total. 

The cargo share of revenue at most airlines ranges from the low single digits to the midteens during non-pandemic periods.

The company said it will add capacity if it notices any sign of a late-season uptick in demand, especially for fashion and e-commerce goods.

Click here for more 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]