A strong finish
In some ways, 2016 came in like a lamb for the airfreight industry and went out like a lion – one whose roar can still be heard today as the surge in demand carried well into 2017. IATA’s WATS report noted that the particularly strong peak season in 2016 “coincided with a steady increase in manufacturers’ export order books over the same period.”
Like almost every year, there was little change at the top. The three busiest carriers in the Freight 50 list maintained the same positions as the only airlines with in excess of 11 billion freight tonne kilometers (FTKs). The perennial “King of Memphis,” FedEx, was No. 1 again, with 15.2 billion FTKs, followed by No. 2 Emirates, with 12.3 billion, and No. 3 UPS, rising to nearly 11.3 billion.
Nabil Sultan, Emirates’s divisional senior vice president of cargo, attributed part of the carrier’s continued success to SkyCargo’s offering of “specialized transportation solutions,” including the pharma sector, which grew by 30 percent. Emirates also obtained the European Union’s Good Distribution Practices (GDP) certification for its Dubai-based cargo facilities and operations. “Overall the response to our products has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
The DHL Express Group, showing a robust 15.1 percent rise in e-commerce FTKs to almost 10.6 billion, made the earliest move, skipping two spots from last year to reach No. 4. Cathay dipped by 3.6 percent to fall to No. 5, followed by the Lufthansa Group at No. 6, despite its 1.6 percent rise in FTKs last year. However, the figures for DHL, as always, should be treated with caution due to its complex structure (see Carrier Groups Breakdown chart).
The next big reshuffle in the rankings came as no surprise as Qatar Airways, which just cracked the top 10 for the first time last year, rose another two ranks into the No. 7 spot, with a nearly 20 percent surge in 2016 lift. “We achieved a 74 percent load factor and saw an increase of 21.5 percent in our tonnages,” said Uli Ogiermann, Qatar’s head of cargo. Express cargo saw a 30 percent increase, year-over-year, along with a 17 percent increase in perishables, a 74 percent spike in live animals and a 39 percent rise in pharmaceuticals, he added.
While Qatar’s growth came mainly from several new routes launched in 2016, it continues to grow this year following the June freight embargo from Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf states as punishment for alleged ties to terrorism and trade with Iran. The intended effect, however, backfired as carriers from elsewhere in the Middle East stepped up their flights to Doha International.