Cargo volumes dropped at major European airports in 2019

Cargo loading on the ramp at Frankfurt

With few exceptions, 2019 will not be remembered as a good year for air cargo at European airports.

Several of the region’s largest air cargo hubs have recently reported year-over-year volume declines, and most cited some combination of economic slowdown, U.S.-China trade tensions and local issues as reasons for the poor performance. Major European airlines also suffered cargo volume declines in 2019.

Frankfurt Airport, Europe’s largest cargo hub, saw volume decline 3.9% to 2.13 million metric tons for the year, according to Fraport AG, which operates the airport and 20 others in Europe, Asia and South America. This drop reflects “the ongoing slowdown of the global economy,” said Stefan Schulte, executive board chairman of Fraport AG. In December, Frankfurt’s cargo volume, which includes air freight and air mail, fell 7.2% from 2018 to 170,384 metric tons — the lowest December volume since the worldwide financial crisis 10 year ago, the airport company said.

Frankfurt’s passenger volume reached 70.6 million in 2019, marking the first time the airport has surpassed the 70 million mark. Still, even passenger traffic stagnated in the second half of the year, Fraport said.

Cargo volume at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport declined 7.9% in 2019 to 1.57 million metric tons from 1.7 million in 2018, according to Schiphol Cargo. December volume fell 8.1% year over year.

In a post on the airport’s website, Maaike van de Windt, director of aviation marketing, cargo and customer experience, said the past two years have been challenging because the airport is operating under takeoff and landing slot restrictions. “At the start of this year, we were hoping that the decline in full freighter movements in 2018 would not be repeated in 2019, but after recording a similar decline this year we have had to accept the reality of the situation and see how we should respond,” she said.

Freighter takeoffs and landings at Schiphol declined 11.5% to 14,156 in 2019 from 16,002 in 2018. Van de Windt said the airport’s main priority is to protect the full freight traffic and that it is seeking a fixed number of slots for freighters by stressing the value of cargo to the Netherlands’ economy.

At London Heathrow, cargo volume declined 6.6% in 2019 to just under 1.59 million metric tons, according to Heathrow Airport Ltd. European Union volume fell 14.8% and North American volume was down 8.3% for the year. Volume in the Africa and Middle East markets increased for the year.

A record 80.9 million passengers traveled through Heathrow in 2019.

One of the few cargo bright spots was Liege Airport in Belgium, which saw a record 902,480 metric tons of cargo last year — an increase of 3.6% from 2018. The airport blamed Brexit and the effects of the U.S.-China trade war on world trade for the overall cargo sector’s performance in 2019.

“Our performance is significant in the context of a year that experienced many upheavals,” said CEO Luc Partoune. He said the airport saw double-digit growth early in the year, a slowdown and decline during the middle, and a rebound in cargo at the end of the year.

Cologne/Bonn Airport in Germany reported 815,000 tons of freight for the year, a decline of 5% from 2018.

At Brussels Airport, cargo volume dropped 7.9% for the year to 500,702 tons. Full freight volume fell 15.9%, integrator volume declined 6% and belly hold volume decreased 2.6%. Cargo handled by integrators, such as DHL and UPS, makes up about 41% of the airport’s total air cargo volume, followed by belly cargo at 31.6% and and full freighter volume at just over 27%.