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Opinion: Air Cargo Is Booming

A Cargolux 747 (Photo: Ian McMurtry)

Just over a century ago on November 7, 1910, the first-ever cargo flight took place between Dayton, Ohio and Columbus, Ohio with a package of 200 pounds of silk on a relatively small aircraft.

Fast forward to modern times, and we have much larger aircraft for cargo operations with numerous cargo airlines being founded. With the right aircraft and the right operational team, practically everything could be carried in the fuselage ranging from livestock, construction equipment, complete cars and even aircraft parts for assembly.

Air Cargo in Numbers

Before the pandemic rocked the entire world at its core, air cargo has already been a significant part of the aviation industry through the transportation of over 52 million metric tons of good per year, which represents more than 35 percent of global trade by value, but less than 1 percent of world trade by volume.

Whilst the 1 percent may seem quite a little, but the significance of air cargo within the industry is definitely bound to increase with the pandemic entering its third year, which in a way allows for air cargo to play a vital role in delivering much-needed medicines and medical equipment – basically keeping the global supply chains functioning for such time-sensitive materials.

And with the trend of e-commerce riding along with this high tide, retail stores worldwide are also frantically looking towards air cargo for quicker shipping times to improve their business and retain customer loyalty, as opposed to the then traditional method of shipping by sea.

Enjoying the Boom

Cargo airlines have certainly seen their business blossom even as the aviation industry as a whole crumpled during the initial pandemic, with the Cargolux Group reaching a record high in profits for the year 2020, and with bigger airlines managing to scrape through survival through cargo operations on empty passenger flights.

This would probably lead these airlines to wonder, perhaps it is time to invest a little more in air cargo as they used to on passengers?

Few airlines have taken upon such investments this year either through the purchasing of dedicated freighters, or even the freighter conversion of an older passenger aircraft like what Air Canada and Qantas recently did, with Air Canada’s first-ever freighter having entered service almost immediately after conversion as an effort to provide the additional cargo capacity needed.

Another likely airline seems to be Air Belgium when it posted a LinkedIn job posting for full-time pilots to fly the Boeing 747-8Fs for cargo operations set to commence in early 2022. Other airlines such as American and United have been considering bigger cargo operations, but have not taken any significant steps as of yet. Aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing have also been taking the booming hint, sketching up freighters in the works that can carry more whilst using lesser fuel for their airline customers.

What’s Next for Airlines?

It only takes one new Covid-19 variant to effectively shut down parts of the world again, just as it was having a grand re-opening and airlines were celebrating with network expansions and fleet additions.

Personally, I feel that it would be wise for airlines to focus a bit more on cargo considering how besides the time-sensitive materials like vaccines, e-commerce seems to be quite the driving force behind the boom of air cargo as well. if there’s one thing learned from this pandemic, it’s that airlines cannot simply rely on passenger numbers alone.

It would prove interesting to see which other airlines would slowly venture into either starting or expanding their cargo operations, because whilst it is easy to say and know about the boom of air cargo, but these airlines would also need the financials, aircraft and network for everything to work.

Charlotte Seet


  • Charlotte Seet

    Fascinated by aircraft from a very young age, Charlotte’s dream was to work alongside the big birds one day. Pursuing her dream, she went on to achieve her diploma in Aviation Management and is currently working on her degree in Aviation Business in Administration with a minor in Air Traffic Management. When she’s not busy with school assignments, you can find her aircraft spotting for long hours at the airport. In Charlotte’s heart, the Queen of the Skies will always be her favorite aircraft.

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