What Are The World’s Top Cargo Hubs?

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year was the catalyst for several key changes in the aviation industry. While passenger traffic has fallen sharply, the crisis has been something of a boom for airfreight. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the world’s 10 busiest airports in terms of cargo operations in 2020, and how their figures compare to 2019.

Atlas Air
Some airports have seen large fluctuations in cargo volumes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The world’s number 1 cargo airport

According to Airport Council International (ACI), the world’s busiest airport in terms of cargo volume is Memphis International (MEM) in the US state of Tennessee. The ACI’s data shows that the airport processed a total of 4,613,431 tonnes of cargo in 2020.

This represented a 6.7% increases compared to 2019, when it handled 4,322,740 tonnes. The increase saw Memphis climb from second place in 2019 to first for 2020. It is unsurprising to see it rank so highly, given the strong presence of several key cargo airlines. The strongest of these is FedEx, which has its largest base, known as its ‘SuperHub,’ at Memphis.

FedEx Feeder also operates smaller cargo aircraft into Memphis to connect with the carrier’s mainline freight services, which fly as far afield as Europe and the Middle East. Other cargo airlines that serve Memphis include Atlas Air, DHL, Kalitta Air, and UPS.

FedEx Boeing 777F
FedEx aircraft are a common sight at Memphis International. Photo: Steve Knight via Flickr

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Asian hubs near the top of the rankings

Both the second and third busiest airports by cargo volume last year are located in Asia. Second in the rankings is Hong Kong International (HKG), which handled  4,468,089 tonnes of cargo. Interestingly, this represented a decrease in airfreight, possibly due to the fact that passenger flights (which can carry belly-hold cargo) were few and far between.

Indeed, this figure is 7.1% lower than in 2019, when Hong Kong handled 4,809,485 tonnes of cargo. Nonetheless, the airport is a key base for several cargo airlines, including local carriers Air Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Cargo, and Hong Kong Airlines Cargo. US logistics juggernauts DHL and UPS also have a significant presence at Hong Kong International.

Hong Kong Airport
Hong Kong is no longer the world’s busiest cargo airport. Photo: Wylkie Chan via Wikimedia Commons

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) rounds out the podium in third place. It handled 1.4% more cargo last year, processing a total of 3,686,627 tonnes. This represented a slight increase compared to the 3,634,230 tonnes that it handled in 2019. It is a hub for key cargo carriers such as China Cargo Airlines, DHL, FedEx, and UPS.

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The best of the rest

Fourth place sees the top 10’s biggest climber. Alaska’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International (ANC) saw a 15% boost in cargo volume in 2020. It handled 3,157,682 tonnes, compared to 2,745,348 in 2019. The airport explained to Simple Flying that it dealt with the extra cargo traffic “by using some of the vacant passenger infrastructure.”

What Are The World’s Top Cargo Hubs?
2020 was a record-setting year for cargo for Anchorage. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The remainder of the world’s 10 busiest cargo airports last year are listed as follows:

  • 5) Louisville Muhammad Ali International (SDF) – 2,917,243 tonnes, up 4.6%.
  • 6) Seoul Incheon International (ICN) – 2,822,370 tonnes, up 2.1%.
  • 7) Taipei Taoyuan International (TPE) – 2,342,714 tonnes, up 7.4%.
  • 8) Los Angeles International (LAX) – 2,229,476 tonnes, up 6.6%.
  • 9) Doha Hamad International (DOH) – 2,175,292 tonnes, down 1.8%.
  • 10) Miami International (MIA) – 2,137,699 tonnes, up 2.2%.

As the world looks to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and enter the ‘new normal,’ it will be interesting to see whether cargo volumes will remain high. Anchorage’s Airport Manager Jim Szczesniak certainly believes so, and told Simple Flying that cargo volumes at his facility in 2021 are “probably going to be about the same.”

How many of the world’s top cargo hubs have you visited? Do any of the top 10 entries surprise you? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.