Ready for Takeoff: The world’s top 50 cargo airports prepare for e-commerce

The previous year was not expected to be a particularly promising one in terms of air cargo at the world’s airports. The industry had just been through about 15 years of steady, but modest growth, in the range of 3 to 4 percent each year. With the specter of the Brexit and a rise in French nationalism hanging over the European Union, plus a hard-right turn in protectionist rhetoric during the 2016 presidential election in the United States, many pundits predicted more of the same mediocrity, or worse.

Then the second half of the year began, with one of the healthiest peak-season buildups in recent memory – a surge that kept going into this year and has continued into the fall of 2017. As the cyclical recovery of the global economy progressed, international trade continued to rise on the popularity of e-commerce, as well as historically low jet fuel prices, leading to robust growth in airfreight volumes.

The annual “World Airport Traffic Report” (WATR), compiled by Airports Council International (ACI), reflects many of these changes. Total cargo handled – including loaded and unloaded freight and mail – by airports worldwide in 2016 was up 4 percent over 2015, reaching about 110.3 million tonnes. International freight handled was up 4.5 percent to 69 million tonnes, while domestic cargo reached just shy of 34 million tonnes last year – a 3 percent rise.

After a relatively lackluster start, “air cargo markets experienced a revival in the second half of 2016,” reported ACI in the latest WATR. “Despite the backdrop of economic uncertainty regarding trade policies in the United States and the United Kingdom, two of the world’s largest aviation markets, business confidence has persevered into 2017.”

Angela Gittens, director general of ACI World, said this growth may be no mere fluke. “When we look at the traffic data over the last two decades,” she wrote, “we get a sense that aviation has entered a new era of unprecedented growth.”

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