Hong Kong retains top cargo hub status, with Cathay Cargo leading the way

The city has held on to first place in the Airports Council International air cargo rankings

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has retained its status as the world’s busiest air cargo hub by tonnage in the 2022 Airports Council International (ACI) rankings.

HKIA handled just under 4.2 million tonnes of cargo – down 16.4 per cent against 2021, but still holding off Memphis in second place, which experienced a 9.8 per cent drop in tonnage. Of those 4.2m tonnes, Cathay Cargo was the biggest contributor, handling 1.15m tonnes.

Director Cargo Tom Owen welcomed the news, especially given challenges of the previous year.

‘The result demonstrates yet again Hong Kong’s enduring advantages as a transhipment centre for air cargo and is a huge credit to all the teams we have supporting Cathay Cargo,’ he said. ‘We plan to continue to invest in our Hong Kong and extended home market of the Greater Bay Area, so that we see both Cathay Cargo and Hong Kong go from strength to strength. Now that our capacity is returning and with the opportunities to come when Hong Kong starts its three runway operations next year, we will be able to carry more of the air cargo that matters to the world.’

Cathay Cargo is the biggest contributor to Hong Kong International Airport’s ranking as top air cargo airport
Cathay Cargo is the biggest contributor to Hong Kong International Airport’s ranking as top air cargo airport

Hong Kong’s geographical advantages

Writing in his blog, the Hong Kong SAR Government Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Lam Sai-hung, pointed to the hub’s geographical advantages. ‘Hong Kong is located in the centre of Asia,’ he said. ‘A four-hour flight can reach major markets in the Asia-Pacific region, and a five-hour flight puts it in range of more than half of the world’s population. We will continue to consolidate and give full play to our own advantages, seek policy innovations to consolidate and enhance Hong Kong’s status as an international shipping centre and international aviation hub, and become the most important gateway connecting the world and the country.’

The Airport Authority (AA) has been instrumental in developing cargo strengths for the HKIA community, including accreditation for CEIV Pharma, CEIV Fresh and CEIV Live Animals, while the Cathay Cargo Terminal has just received CEIV Lithium Batteries certification, with Cathay Cargo soon to follow. Additionally, the AA has also introduced multi-modal cargo shipments from its Dongguan Logistics Park.

‘We are proud that HKIA retains its leading position as the world’s busiest cargo hub,’ said Jack So, AAHK Chairman. ‘HKIA’s cargo performance has consistently remained strong over the past few years, leveraging its extensive network and high efficiency. As air traffic continues to recover worldwide, coupled with the completion of various new cargo facilities at HKIA, we will continue to work with our business partners to consolidate HKIA’s role as the world’s leading air cargo hub.’

The Pharma Handling Centre at the Cathay Cargo Terminal added more cool-chain storage at Hong Kong International Airport
The Pharma Handling Centre at the Cathay Cargo Terminal added more cool-chain storage at Hong Kong International Airport

8 ways Cathay Cargo contributed to HKIA’s world-topping cargo tonnage in 2022

  1. Flight and ground crews sacrificing time at home with their families to work in closed loop operations and spending long periods in hotel quarantine to fit with pandemic restrictions in Hong Kong and on the Chinese Mainland.
  2. Working with the AA to trial multimodal transport links with the GBA from its Dongguan Logistics Park, which helped maintain cargo throughput when restrictions affected cross-border trucking operations.
  3. Reactivating the Cathay Pacific passenger fleet on an ongoing basis, which continues to add belly capacity: 85 per cent of cargo capacity (compared to 2019) is expected to be available by the end of the year.
  4. Cathay Pacific Services Ltd (CPSL) won new business from an array of carriers to make up for the reduction in Cathay Cargo tonnages and decrease in services from other airline customers.
  5. Operating 18,743 pairs of cargo-only passenger flights during the pandemic, using aircraft that would otherwise have remained grounded.
  6. Converting six passenger Boeing 777 passenger aircraft into ‘preighters’ by removing seats from the main deck. This enabled up to 12 tonnes of additional cargo to be carried in the passenger cabin.
  7. Working to optimise the flying time of the 20-strong freighter fleet, keeping more cargo flying more of the time.
  8. Operating record numbers of charter flights during the pandemic while initiatives such as Merge in Transit gave customers the opportunity to consolidate shipments from across Asia in Hong Kong for the ultimate transpacific journey.

As the passenger network rebuilds, more capacity will come online. By the year end, available cargo capacity will be up 85 per cent against that of 2019. Click here to see the summer freighter route map.