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Air cargo industry worldwide - statistics & facts

The transportation industry co-evolved with both socio-economic and technological changes. The introduction of airplanes in the 1900s systematically affected how we make business and transport goods. Although many people only associate aviation with passenger transportation, the global air cargo industry increasingly became a powerhouse for global economic relations especially in the age of rising e-commerce. Even though the market size of the cargo airline fluctuated around 110 billion U.S. dollars during the last four years, in a long-run analysis the strong growth in the cargo airline industry becomes obvious. Between 2004 and 2020, worldwide revenue generated in the cargo aviation industry grew by 80 percent, reaching over 117 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. However, global airfreight traffic only increased by roughly 50 percent during the same period. This discrepancy in growth indicates a change in either pricing structure or demand for the more profitable type of air cargo services, such as express carriers. For instance, express carriers made up the largest share of global air cargo revenue in 2019, with over 44 billion U.S. dollars. Additionally, the intense industrialization in Asia over the most recent decades shifted the gravity of the world economy towards Asia. As a result, Asia-Pacific held the largest market share with over one-third of the global air cargo industry in 2019.

Firms in the air cargo industry

In addition to well-functioning markets with a multitude of cargo firms, cargo airports are the necessary nodes in the global air freight transportation industry providing crucial infrastructure for air cargo firms. Since 2014, Hong Kong (HKG), Memphis (MEM), and Shanghai (PVG) were the largest cargo airports by freight volume. In 2019, FedEx, Qatar Airways, and UPS were the leading three airlines for international and domestic air cargo in terms of freight tonne-kilometers. In less than a decade, Emirates Group’s air cargo volume increased by 70 percent, reaching over 2.6 million metric tons of cargo carried. Some firms have a more dynamic market strategy with large expansions. For instance, Qatar Airways almost doubled the amount of cargo carried in only five years, namely between 2015 and 2020.

Outlook of the air cargo industry in the aftermath of COVID-19

The growth of global trade and economic relations triggered indirectly a positive expansion of the air cargo industry until 2020. However, the persistence and magnitude of the coronavirus shock make countries and industries rethink industrial policy designs. To shift towards localized industrial production is one of the tendencies , especially in the aftermath of COVID-19. Consequently, industries can strive to become somewhat self-sufficient, thus, reducing the need for more transportation including air cargo. Most importantly, the coronavirus outbreak hits the international air freight forwarding market through a persistent health shock that drags the global economy into a deep recession. This is because industrial production remained at a historically low-level globally throughout 2020. In a severe impact scenario, the global air freight forwarding market is expected to contract by 7.7 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. Moreover, the restrictions on passenger aviation impacted the share of freighter capacity in the air cargo segment. As of August 2020, approximately 78 percent of the air cargo capacity was supplied by a freighter (a cargo aircraft), which is a sharp change from the balance of 50-50 between belly freight and freighter air cargo prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Air cargo industry worldwide

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