Top twenty cargo airports in 2015

According to Airports Council International, total cargo handled (loaded and unloaded freight and mail) by airports worldwide in 2015 was up 2.4% over 2014 to about 103 million tonnes. International freight handled was up 2.2% to 63 million tonnes, accounting for a little more than 61% of the total volume. That’s a lot of cargo.

Looking at the total cargo (freight plus mail) handled by the top twenty individual airports, we see relatively little change from last year. The top three airports remain unchanged from 2014, while Anchorage swapped fourth and fifth places with Incheon, and there was some further shuffling of positions below the top five. The biggest move came from Doha’s Hamad International (DOH), which entered the top twenty for the first time, moving up from twenty-fourth last year and nudging New York (JFK) out of the list.

The story was much the same for international freight handled. No airport moved up or down by more than three places, and only one new name appeared in the list, as Dubai World Central (DWC) moved up from twenty-first to twentieth, bumping nearby Abu Dhabi (AUH) out of the top twenty.

While the rankings did not change much, there were a couple of surprises in the year-over-year data. Doha’s total handle jumped 46.4% and its international handle was up even more – 47.3%. DOH is the home of Qatar Airways, and the big increases in the airport’s handle are a reflection of the phenomenal growth of Qatar Airways’ cargo business. The other big jump was at Chicago’s O’Hare International (ORD), which reported its total cargo handle up 15.6% and its international freight handle up 21.0%. Chicago has been an important cargo gateway to North America for some time, and the sudden growth cannot be explained by the activity of any single carrier. However, after years of congestion, ORD was in a position in 2015 to enjoy the benefit of runway expansion and other capacity growth.

Whatever the numbers on the chart, when it comes to airport rankings, “top twenty” must be treated with considerable skepticism. That is not to say that the numbers are flawed, but rather that an airport’s position in or out of the top twenty does not provide definitive information about trade flows.

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