Latest traffic figures from a cross-section of leading European airport gateways for Asian trade indicate that a marked upturn in their overall cargo volumes at the end of 2016 continued through the opening weeks of 2017.
However, industry sources cautioned that the early Chinese New Year holiday this year might have distorted some of those numbers, implying that it could take another couple of months for a clearer picture of current trends to become apparent.
The pick-up in European airport cargo volumes towards the end of last year was highlighted in figures published by Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, an association representing the operators of over 500 airports in 45 European countries.
According to that body, total freight traffic handled by member airports in 2016 was up just over 4% on the previous year, “registering the best performance since 2010 and confirming improving economic conditions for Europe.” That improvement accelerated significantly during the latter stages of 2016, with the final quarter seeing an 8% rise and the single month of December a 10% jump.
Those figures were boosted by a notable increase in freight traffic at ACI Europe’s non-EU member airports which reported a rise of 15% for the final quarter and just over 13% for December, compared with respective EU airport figures of 7% and 10%.
Further confirmation of the pick-up in overall European airport cargo volumes during 2016 – and a continuation of that trend at the start of this year – was provided by the region’s leading cargo gateway, Frankfurt in Germany.
According to airport management company Fraport, Frankfurt’s cargo throughput (air freight and air mail) in 2016 as a whole was up almost 2% on 2015 to just over 2 million tonnes, with the month of December seeing a particularly strong performance in the form of a near 8% increase to nearly 189,000 tonnes.
“That was driven by the recovery in world trade and a rise in demand for exports in the Euro zone stimulated by the weak euro, as well as the ongoing dynamic growth of the German economy,” added Fraport.
The upward trend in volumes continued in the early weeks of this year, with Frankfurt’s January cargo figure up nearly 6% on the comparable month in 2016 to almost 169,000 tonnes. “The growing global demand for goods and the timing of the Chinese New Year encouraged those dynamic developments at the beginning of 2017,” stated Fraport. However, the airport’s most recent monthly figure, for February, showed a more modest growth figure of just over 1% to nearly 162,000 tonnes.
Similar traffic trends have been apparent at another of Europe’s top four cargo-handling airports, London Heathrow in the UK, where the increase for 2016 as whole was 3% to 1.54 million tonnes, “mainly due to Hong Kong, China and Vietnam,” while that for the fourth quarter was just on 4.5% to 413,000 tonnes and for December, 5% to nearly 134,000 tonnes.
So far this year, Heathrow has seen almost 4.5% growth in January (compared with January 2016) to 124,000 tonnes and a similar percentage increase in February to 127,000 tonnes.
Commenting on that February figure, Heathrow’s management group said emerging markets had been major contributors “with volumes up to Brazil (+10%), India (+5%) and China (+4.2%), alongside healthy growth to North America (+7%) and the Middle East (+8%).”
Based on figures published by ACI Europe, the region’s other two top four cargo airports, Paris CDG in France and Amsterdam Schiphol in the Netherlands, also saw a marked acceleration in traffic growth during the latter part of 2016.
Paris CDG’s figure for the year as a whole was 1.99 million tonnes, up just over 4.5% on 2015, while that for the fourth quarter was almost 5.5% ahead at 540,000 tonnes and the December throughput was up more than 8% to 179,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, Amsterdam Schiphol’s 2016 full-year total was 2.5% ahead at 1.66 million tonnes, with the fourth quarter volume up just over 5% to 449,000 tonnes and the December figure nearly 10.5% higher at well over 149,000 tonnes.
A similar acceleration in traffic growth during the latter part of 2016 and a continuation of that trend in the early part of this year were also apparent in recent figures from Europe’s fifth- and sixth-largest cargo airports, respectively Leipzig/Halle in Germany, the European hub for DHL, and Luxembourg, the home base for global Boeing 747 freighter operator Cargolux.
Leipzig/Halle Airport reported a throughput figure of just over one million tonnes in 2016, an increase of 6.5 percent over the previous year, with a new monthly record established in December when the airport handled just over 97,000 tonnes. That improving trend continued in January this year, with the cargo volume up almost 7% on the comparable 2016 month to nearly 85,000 tonnes.
A similar acceleration in traffic growth during the latter part of 2016 was reported by Luxembourg Airport. For the year as whole, cargo throughput was up just over 8% to 821,000 tonnes, boosted by a 13% increase in trade with China. However, reported the airport management, the pace of that overall growth accelerated substantially during the latter part of the year, with the fourth quarter seeing a 16% increase and the month of December a 27% jump.
The airport management added that the main contributors to its 2016 total cargo figure were Cargolux with 675,000 tonnes, around 82% of the total, followed by Qatar Airways (just over 44,000 tonnes), Atlas Air (39,000 tonnes) and China Airlines and Silk Way West Airlines (each with approximately 19,000 tonnes).
Other leading European airports to report an acceleration of cargo traffic growth in the latter part of 2016 and a continuation of that trend at the start of this year included Belgium’s major gateway, Brussels. Despite being negatively affected by the impact of terrorist attacks which closed the airport for 12 days in March, its total annual cargo throughput rose by just over 1% to nearly 500,000 tonnes. The airport management noted it had seen “particularly strong” figures in the second half of the year, culminating in a 22% increase in December.
That end-of-year positive momentum in cargo figures at Brussels airport continued in January this year, with the monthly volume up 21% on January 2016 “thanks to growth in the full freighter and integrator segments” and despite the fact that “the Chinese New Year fell earlier this year and cargo activity was generally slower during that period.”
Another European gateway to see a strong start to 2017 was Hungary’s Budapest Airport, following up a near 23% in cargo throughput last year, to total over 112,000 tonnes, with a 27% rise in January this year. Some of that growth, suggested the airport management, was down to Budapest’s increasingly significant role as a European regional distribution hub for major Chinese corporations.
By Phil Hastings
Correspondent | London