Air cargo services provided by airlines, freight forwarders and other logistics organisations enable the rapid transportation of goods that typically include perishable items, other time-sensitive shipments such as mail, and also high-value products, such as electronics and jewellery. Carriers include dedicated cargo airlines, as well as passenger airlines that also offer cargo services – also known as 'belly capacity'.
Belly capacity is important for the air cargo industry because a good deal of global air freight is transported in the belly of passenger flights. Airlines use this space to transport goods.
Most airports have dedicated facilities where cargo is received, processed, sorted, and stored before being loaded onto aircraft, or transport via other modes of transportation.
A number of airports also offer warehousing and distribution centres, where cargo can be stored or consolidated for onward transportation. Such facilities offer value-added services such as inventory management, repackaging, labelling, and order fulfilment.
The global air freight industry is worth an estimated $100bn a year. Here, we look at 10 of the biggest air cargo carriers.
1. DHL Aviation
Revenue: $20 billion
DHL Aviation is a subsidiary of the German logistics company, Deutsche Post DHL Group. It operates a fleet of 250 aircraft and provides air cargo services to 220 countries and territories. It is not a single airline but a group of airlines that are either owned, co-owned or chartered by DHL Express.
It transports a wide range of goods, including pharmaceuticals, automotive parts and electronic devices. DHL Aviation operates several hubs and sorting facilities globally.
02. FedEx Express
CEO: Raj Subramaniam
Major global courier and logistics company FedEx Express is the air cargo division of FedEx Corporation, the US global courier and logistics company.
With a fleet of 670 aircraft, it transports goods including documents, packages, and freight, with a focus on time-sensitive and critical shipments. The division also offers a range of logistics and supply chain services, including customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution.
03. UPS Airlines
CEO: Carol B. Tomé
UPS Airlines is the air cargo division of United Parcel Service (UPS), the US multinational package delivery and supply chain management organisation. It has a fleet of 280 aircraft and transports a wide range of goods, including packages, freight, and oversized items.
It has several major hubs and sorting facilities around the world, including Worldport at Louisville International Airport in Kentucky, one of the largest automated package sorting facilities anywhere.
President: Sir Tim Clark
Emirates SkyCargo is the air cargo division of Emirates, the airline based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. With a fleet of 260 aircraft, it serves 155 destinations in 85 countries.
Goods it deals with include pharmaceuticals, perishables, and high-value and time-sensitive items. It runs a dedicated state-of-the-art cargo terminal at Dubai International Airport.
Emirates Cargo also offers logistics and supply chain solutions, including temperature-controlled transportation, customs clearance, and warehousing.
CEO: Richard Forson
Cargolux is an all-cargo airline based in Luxembourg. It operates a fleet of Boeing 747 freighter aircraft and offers air cargo services to 90 destinations. The airline specialises in transporting high-value and time-sensitive cargo, such as pharmaceuticals, automotive parts, and live animals.
It has a joint venture with HNCA, a Chinese logistics company, which has helped it expand its operations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Logistics and supply chain solutions offered include customs clearance, road feeder services, and specialised handling for sensitive cargo.
CEO: Ronald S.P. Lam
Cathay Pacific Cargo is the air cargo division of Cathay Pacific Airways, the airline based in Hong Kong. With a fleet of 20 cargo aircraft, it specialises in transporting perishables, pharmaceuticals, and electronics.
Cathay Pacific Cargo operates several cargo facilities at Hong Kong International Airport, which is one of the busiest cargo airports in the world. The division also offers a range of logistics and supply chain solutions, including customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution.
07. Korean Air Cargo
CEO: Cho Won-tae
Korean Air Cargo has a fleet of 30 cargo aircraft and offers air cargo services to 100 destinations worldwide. The division transports a wide range of cargo, including electronics, pharmaceuticals, and live animals.
Korean Air Cargo operates several cargo facilities at Incheon International Airport, which is the largest airport in South Korea and a major hub for air cargo in the Asia-Pacific region.
The division also offers customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution services.
08. Lufthansa Cargo
CEO: Ashwin Bhat
Lufthansa Cargo is the air cargo division of Lufthansa Group, a major airline based in Germany. With its 10 cargo aircraft, the Cargo offers air cargo services to 300 destinations worldwide, transporting cargo including pharmaceuticals, automotive parts and live animals.
It operates several cargo facilities at Frankfurt Airport, the largest airport in Germany and a major hub for air cargo in Europe, and also offers customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution services.
CEO: Kao Shing-Huang
China Airlines Cargo is the air cargo division of China Airlines, the largest airline and flag carrier of Taiwan. With its fleet of With a fleet of over 20 cargo aircraft, it transports high-tech products, perishables and e-commerce goods.
The company operates cargo facilities at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and customs clearance, warehousing and distribution are among its supply chain and logistics offerings.
CEO: Goh Choon Phong
SIA has a fleet of 20 aircraft, which transport perishables, pharmaceuticals and high-value goods. It operates cargo facilities at Singapore Changi Airport and offers a range of logistics and supply chain solutions, including customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution.
It has partnered with other airlines and logistics companies to expand its reach and offer more comprehensive services to its customers.