Understanding the Key Players in the Air Freight Industry

What is Air Freight?

Air freight is the transportation of goods through an airplane. This mode of transportation is commonly used when time is of the essence, or when the goods are too valuable or sensitive to be shipped by other modes of transportation such as ocean freight or road transport.

Why air freight is important?

Air freight provides a faster, more efficient, and more reliable means of transporting goods and products across the world.

Air freight facilitates international trade by providing a fast and reliable way of transporting goods between countries, allowing businesses to capitalize on new market opportunities and meet the demands of consumers around the world.

Furthermore, air freight is critical to the global economy, creating jobs and generating revenue for a wide range of businesses and industries.

Who are the 5 main players in the air freight?


FedEx, one of the largest air cargo carriers in the world, operates a fleet of over 670 aircraft. In 2020, they shipped a total of 20.6 billion pounds of air cargo, generating over $6 billion in revenue.

Their impressive fleet of planes includes everything from small regional aircraft to large wide-body jets, allowing them to transport a wide range of cargo.

FedEx’s air cargo services cover destinations all around the globe, with a particular focus on North America and Asia. They also offer specialized services for industries such as healthcare, aerospace, and automotive.


UPS, one of the major air freight carriers in the industry, operates a fleet of over 275 aircraft. These planes are specifically designed for cargo transportation, allowing UPS to efficiently move goods around the world.

In terms of volume, UPS ships a significant amount of air cargo each year. In 2020 alone, they transported over 4 billion pounds of air freight.


DHL is one of the major players in the air freight industry, operating around 250 aircraft for transporting cargo.

In 2020, DHL Global Forwarding, the freight division of DHL, transported over 2 million tons of air freight globally.

DHL’s air freight services are available in over 220 countries and territories worldwide. They offer a wide range of transportation solutions, including express and standard options, as well as specialized services for specific industries such as healthcare, automotive, and technology.

Emirates SkyCargo

Emirates SkyCargo is the air freight division of Emirates, one of the world’s largest airlines.

Emirates SkyCargo has 11 Boeing 777 freighters, 2 Boeing 747-400 freighters, and 1 Boeing 747-400ER freighter. They also use their passenger aircraft, such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777, to carry cargo in their belly hold compartments.

Emirates SkyCargo has consistently ranked as one of the top 10 air cargo carriers in the world. In 2020, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Emirates SkyCargo managed to transport 2.4 million tonnes of cargo.

Cathay Pacific Cargo

Cathay Pacific Cargo is one of the key players in the air freight industry, providing services to more than 47 destinations worldwide. They operate a fleet of 20 dedicated freighter aircraft and have access to the passenger fleet of Cathay Pacific Airways.

In 2019, Cathay Pacific Cargo transported more than 1.8 million tonnes of cargo, which accounts for approximately 23% of the company’s total revenue.

The cargo carried by Cathay Pacific includes perishables, such as seafood, fruits, and vegetables, as well as electronic goods and pharmaceuticals. They also offer special handling services, such as their “Premium Service” which ensures that the shipment is monitored from the moment it is picked up until it reaches its destination.

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What are the two types of air cargo carriers?

There are two main types of air cargo carriers in the air freight industry: integrated carriers and dedicated cargo carriers.

Integrated carriers

Integrated carriers, such as FedEx, UPS, and DHL, operate a combination of passenger and cargo aircraft.

These carriers have established global networks, with their own fleet of planes and comprehensive infrastructure. They offer a range of air freight services, including express delivery, time-definite delivery, and door-to-door delivery.

Integrated carriers handle both small packages and large shipments, providing end-to-end logistics solutions.

Integrated carriers also offer additional services, such as customs clearance and warehousing, to support the transportation of goods.

Dedicated cargo carriers

Dedicated cargo carriers focus solely on the transportation of cargo and do not operate passenger flights.

These carriers, such as Atlas Air, Kalitta Air, and Cathay Pacific Cargo, typically have a fleet of freighter aircraft, specially designed for cargo transportation.

Dedicated cargo carriers offer services such as scheduled flights, charter services, and specialized cargo handling. They often serve niche markets or specific industries, providing customized solutions for the transportation of goods.

Who is the leader in air freight?

It is important to note that different companies may excel in different areas and have varying strengths. However, based on factors such as market share, fleet size, global network, and overall industry reputation, FedEx is often considered the leader in air freight.

FedEx has built a strong brand and global presence over the years, offering a wide range of air freight services and logistics solutions. With a vast fleet of over 670 aircraft and a comprehensive network of facilities worldwide, FedEx can handle large volumes of cargo and ensure timely deliveries.

Who is the largest air cargo handler?

The largest air cargo handler in the world is DHL. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), DHL handled 2.26 million metric tons of cargo in 2020. This accounts for almost 14% of the entire global air cargo market.

DHL operates a vast global network of around 1,000 aircraft, which includes both owned and leased planes. Additionally, DHL owns and operates numerous cargo hubs around the world, with their largest hub located in Leipzig, Germany.

What are the 3 main categories of cargo air freight?

Air freight can be categorized into three main categories, including express, general, and special cargo.


Express cargo is time-sensitive cargo that needs to be delivered quickly, such as mail, packages, and perishable items like flowers or seafood.


General cargo includes non-perishable goods like textiles, consumer goods, electronics, and machinery. This category makes up the majority of air freight transported worldwide.

Special cargo

special cargo refers to goods that require special handling or are oversized, such as cars, aircraft parts, livestock, and hazardous materials.

Who are the parties involved in air freight?

The air freight industry involves a variety of parties that work together to ensure the efficient movement of goods by air. These parties include airlines, freight forwarders, ground handling companies, aircraft manufacturers, and government regulatory bodies.


Airlines play a crucial role in the air freight industry as they own and operate the aircraft that transport goods. They provide the necessary infrastructure and logistics to ensure goods are transported safely and efficiently.

Freight forwarders

Freight forwarders act as intermediaries between shippers and carriers, handling the paperwork, negotiating rates, and coordinating shipments. They play a key role in ensuring that goods are moved seamlessly from one location to another.

Ground handling companies

Ground handling companies are responsible for managing cargo once it has been unloaded from aircraft. This includes tasks such as loading and unloading cargo, warehousing, and handling customs and security checks.

Aircraft manufacturers

Aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, design and manufacture the aircraft used in air freight. They work closely with airlines to develop planes that are optimized for cargo transportation.

Government regulatory bodies

Government regulatory bodies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, set standards and regulations to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the air freight industry. They oversee the compliance of airlines, freight forwarders, and other parties involved in air freight.

All of these parties work together to ensure the smooth and timely movement of goods by air, contributing to the growth and success of the air freight industry.

What are the drivers of Aircargo growth?

There are various factors driving the growth of the air cargo industry. Here are five key drivers that have contributed to the growth of air freight in recent years:

1. E-commerce: With the rise of online shopping, e-commerce has become a major driver of air cargo growth. Consumers expect faster delivery times, which means retailers are increasingly relying on air freight to get products to customers quickly.

2. Globalization: As businesses expand their operations across the globe, air freight has become an essential part of their supply chain. Companies can move products quickly and efficiently, no matter where they are in the world.

3. Pharmaceutical Industry: The global pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest users of air cargo. Drugs and other medical supplies often need to be transported quickly and at specific temperatures, making air freight the best option.

4. Technology advancements: Advancements in technology have made air cargo operations more efficient, which has led to increased demand for air freight.

Improved cargo tracking, automated warehouse systems and digitization of customs processes have made air freight faster and more reliable.

5. Humanitarian aid: During times of crisis, such as natural disasters or conflict, air freight is often used to transport much-needed supplies quickly and efficiently.

The importance of air cargo in delivering aid has been particularly highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trends and Challenges Facing the Air Freight Industry

One of the biggest challenges that the air freight industry faces is the constant fluctuations in the global economy.

When there is a downturn in the economy, demand for air freight services can plummet, causing the industry to take a hit. Conversely, when the economy is strong, demand for air freight services can soar, causing the industry to thrive.

Another challenge is the high cost of fuel. As fuel prices continue to rise, air carriers are forced to raise their prices to maintain profitability.

In addition to these challenges, several trends are shaping the industry. For example, the use of technology is becoming increasingly important, with more and more carriers using data analytics to optimize their operations. Additionally, there is a growing trend towards sustainability, with many carriers taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

Ultimately, players in the air freight industry need to stay ahead of these trends and challenges to remain competitive.