DEC20 was Frankfurt Airport’s best-ever month since 2007, in terms of air freight throughput – and this, despite the huge lack of belly capacity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic related thinning out of passenger traffic. Recovery began at the end of Q3, 2020, and has been on an upward swing since then.
Last December, cargo handled at Rhine-Min Airport went up 9%, totaling 185,700 tons. Although air mail contracted significantly (-42%), air freight increased 11.8%, bringing in 180,500 tons – the highest increase in ten years and the second highest record for that month (only DEC07 brought in 1,400 tons more at the time.) Frankfurt Airport’s management sees the December results as a U-turn pointing to better times ahead. Hence, since passenger figures remain at a low level, and will do for some time yet, cargo is Fraport’s big ray of hope, for now.
“Exceptional dynamic growth”
Fraport’s monthly report is jubilant, referring to “exceptional dynamic growth”, and lists 13DEC20 as its peak single day record in six years, with 8,600 tons handled. DEC20 demand continued through the Christmas holidays, with the days between Christmas and the New Year also running at a higher level than during the previous year. It pinpoints the success as being the result of the high growth rate within the German industrial sector (last experienced four years prior), though imports developed more strongly and higher than average – +13.8% in DEC20 (-5.9% overall in 2020) – than exports (+9.8% in DEC20. -8.8% overall in 2020). This was largely due to the ongoing requirement for PPE, as well as the increase in e-commerce – largely electronics, coming mostly from South Korea and China, and leading to an increase of 14.8% in Asian cargo traffic in DEC20 (overall -2.4% in 2020).
Up on one side, down on the other
North American traffic was strong in both directions, with an overall growth rate of 12.2%, and European figures were pushed up +5.8% by the “relief” flights to the Great Britain that became necessary when the Covid-19 mutation discovery led to France shutting its borders to Great Britain and preventing road, rail, and sea services, thus creating enormous backlogs on both sides which took days to clear. Supplies – often perishables - were airlifted instead. Elsewhere in the world, unfortunately, perishables suffered most through the huge reduction in available belly space. Latin America, with the exception of Mexico which grew in its outbound cargo, suffered a decline of -8.0% (-20.9% overall in 2020), whilst African traffic fell a staggering -43.7% (-48,6% overall in 2020).
The year 2020 overall
The loss of so much belly capacity as passenger figures plummeted to just one-fifth of what they had been, meant that belly airmail loads decreased around 33%, bringing in just over 50,000 tons across the year. Overall, in 2020, air cargo traffic declined 8.3%, totaling 1.95 million tons, of which air cargo contributed 1.9 million, declining slightly less at -7.2% over the year.
The valley of tears was the second quarter of 2020, as the pandemic forced a domino-effect of border closures and airline groundings. Cargo declined 16.9% during that period, but began to rise again from the summer onwards, reaching an increase of 4.9% in the final quarter. According to Fraport’s report, this was the first time in nigh on three years, that a single quarter result showed such growth.
No belly, no cry
Though belly-load cargo fell 50% overall in 2020, and even 82.1% in the second quarter as passenger flights remained on the ground, by the middle of the second quarter, “preighters” had begun alleviating the capacity restraints. MAY20 saw a “preighter” peak of 1,800 aircraft movements, at the height of the PPE transports. In addition, more freighter aircraft was brought in, with a peak in freighter services also occurring in MAY20 (93.5% freighter share). Freighters dominated the year, with a record 80.7% share of traffic.
High handling, high costs, high rates
All well and good having “preighters” as a capacity solution, however the nature of their layout is such that only small, light-weight packages can be loaded, resulting in a huge increase in required manpower and handling time. (Volumes handled at Frankfurt Airport also increased significantly in 2020.) Consequently, as resources increase, so do costs, which then drive rates up, eventually disrupting traditional pricing agreements: medium- and long-term agreements were displaced by short-term charter business, as schedules chopped and changed on a daily basis, causing fluctuating freight capacities. Though “preighter” usage dropped a little over the summer, it saw a comeback again in the final quarter, leading to a total of 8,600 “preighter” flight movements overall in 2020, shifting 8% (just over 150,000 tons) of the total cargo volume at Frankfurt Airport. Rates fluctuated over the year, after the summer peak, rising again in the final quarter, and were overall much higher than in 2019.
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