The Far East's Top 10 Air Cargo Hubs

Which airports are transforming the Far East into a cargo hub?


The Far East has firmly established itself as a leading international superhub for air cargo activities. As the region's airports continue to handle record volumes of freight, profiles ten of the Far East's most successful airfreight facilities.

Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has successfully established itself as the Far East's busiest airport in terms of cargo operations, handling an impressive 3.4 million tonnes during 2008.

The airport markets itself as providing one of China's most efficient multi-modal logistics centres, with benefits including a strategic geographical location, world-class security standards, competitive costs and significant cargo capacity.

The air cargo facilities at HKIA are franchised to a number of different third party service providers. This includes Hong Kong Post, which operates the airport's airmail hub, featuring a state-of-the-art sorting system capable of handling 700,000 items per day.

Another major operator at HKIA is the international powerhouse DHL, which has invested US$110 million to establish the DHL Central Asia Superhub at the airport. The ambitious facility measures 35,000m2 and is capable of processing 35,000 parcels and 40,000 documents per hour.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China

Shanghai Pudong International Airport has marketed itself as a major international airfreight gateway into China.

Located approximately 30km from Shanghai city centre, the airport opened in October 1999 and has since become a leading international superhub for the airfreight industry.

It handled approximately 2.6 million tonnes of freight in 2008, an increase of 3.6% compared to the previous year, with operators including the likes of Cargolux, Emirates Emirates SkyCargo, TNT Airways, FedEx and KLM Cargo. More recently, UPS and the Shanghai Airport Authority signed an agreement to construct a UPS International Air Hub at Pudong International Airport, which is now operational.

Incheon International Airport, South Korea

Incheon International Airport is the largest airport in South Korea, providing operational hubs for airlines such as Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and Cargo 360. The airport, which opened for business in early 2001, handled 2.4 million tonnes of cargo in 2008, a decrease of 5.2% compared to the previous year. It includes a cargo terminal complex with three airfreight terminals, five separate warehouses, parking stands and administration offices.

The complex is operated seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with dedicated areas for importing, transhipments and exporting in each terminal. In addition, an advanced computer system has been implemented, allowing operators to track their cargo in realtime.

Korean Air Cargo operates the first cargo terminal, which measures 60,000m2 and can process 1.35 million tonnes per year. It also includes special processing facilities for the transportation of live animals and products requiring temperature controlled storage.

The second terminal is operated by Asiana Air Cargo, measuring 40,000m2 and capable of handling 7500,000 tonnes per year. The third cargo terminal is managed by Incheon International Airport Foreign Carrier Cargo Terminal Company, with users including FedEx, UPS and DHL, together with a variety of airlines.

Narita International Airport, Japan

As the busiest airfreight hub in Japan, Narita International Airport is located in the eastern portion of the Greater Tokyo area.

Serving as the main international headquarters for Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines, the airport is a major connecting point for cargo traffic between Asia and the Americas, handling 2.1 million tonnes of cargo in 2008, a decrease of 6.9% compared to the previous year.

A range of airfreight facilities are available at Narita International Airport, measuring approximately 287,000m2 in total, including a common import warehouse, maintenance area, agents building and temperature-controlled amenities. These have attracted various international airfreight operators, including the likes of FedEx, Lufthansa Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo and UPS.

Changi Airport, Singapore

With over 80 airlines serving more than 180 cities in over 50 countries, Changi Airport in Singapore has established itself as a major player in the Asia Pacific aviation industry.

Handling 1.88 million tonnes of cargo during 2008, the airport's freight operations are centred in the Changi Airfreight Centre (CAC), a 47-hectare area that functions around the clock.

Capable of handling three million tonnes of cargo per year, the entire CAC is gazetted as a Customs Free Trade Zone (FTZ), which means that companies can move, consolidate, store or repack cargo without the need for documentation or customs duties.

There are nine airfreight terminals within the centre, operated by three ground handling agents - Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS) and Changi International Airport Services (CIAS) and Swissport Singapore. All three have specialised capabilities and facilities to handle and store niche cargo such as dangerous goods, perishables, animals and valuables.

To cater to the needs of time definite shipments, there are also two dedicated Express & Courier Centres (ECCs) in the airfreight centre. One is operated by DHL Express as its Singapore regional hub, while the other is used by TNT and operated by SATS for general express and courier shipments, with an annual handling capacity of 40,000 tonnes.

Other major air express players, including FedEx and UPS, also operate their gateway facilities within the CIAS Airfreight Terminal.

Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan

Taoyuan International Airport, which is located in the northern part of Taiwan, has become the homebase for both China Airlines and EVA Air.

Opened in February 1979, the airport has experienced considerable success over the past three decades. Freight volumes have steadily risen over these years, reaching almost 1.49 million tonnes during 2008 - a decrease of 7% compared to the previous year.

This increase in cargo, together with passenger numbers, prompted the construction of a second terminal, which became operational in 2000. A third terminal is also in the pipeline, together with a transit line connecting all three terminals.

Beijing Capital International Airport, China

Beijing Capital International Airport, located approximately 20km from Beijing city centre, has successfully capitalised on the massive growth of China's airfreight industry.

The airport currently operates as the main hub for Air China, Hainan Airlines and China Southern Airlines. It handled approximately 1.3 million tonnes of cargo last year, an impressive increase of 9.3% compared to the previous year, with airfreight operators including Air China Cargo, Cargolux, FedEx, Korean Air Cargo, Malaysia Airlines Cargo, SAS Cargo Group and Singapore Airlines Cargo.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Suvarnabhumi Airport, located 25km east of Bangkok, was created to replace Bangkok International Airport, which suffered from severe overcrowding with limited space available for expansion.

Initial operations began in September 2006, with the airport now serving as a main hub for Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Orient Thai Airlines, Thai AirAsia and a focus city for Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, EVA Air, Air India, Druk Air, Indian Airlines and SriLankan Airlines.

The airport is able to handle six million tonnes of freight a year and includes a cargo terminal, measuring 190,000m², in addition to a freight express facility, which contains a warehouse, office building and 12 aircraft stands.

In total, Suvarnabhumi Airport handled 1.17 million tonnes in 2008, an decrease of 3.8% compared to the previous year.

Kansai International Airport, Japan

Kansai International Airport was officially opened in September 1994, serving as Japan's international gateway into the Kansai region, which contains the major cities of Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka.

The airport is actually located offshore, constructed on a manmade island on Osaka Bay, which was designed specifically to avoid complaints about noise pollution and other environmentally related issues.

Kansai International Airport has quickly established itself as a leading international hub for the airfreight industry, handling 845,496 tonnes of cargo in 2008 - aminimal decrease of 0.1% compared to the previous year.

Amongst the logistics heavyweights increasing their presence at Kansai International Airport is DHL, which has inaugurated its US$41 million expanded facility at the airport. The airfreight centre, which is located at the International Cargo Warehouse C, is the largest facility operated by an international express company at the airport, measuring 10,100m2.

A number of other carriers also operate cargo-only flights into the airport, including Air Hong Kong, Dragonair, FedEx, Korean Air Cargo, Nippon Cargo Airlines, UPS, Jade Cargo International and Cargo Italia.

Haneda Airport, Japan

Haneda Airport, also known as Tokyo International Airport, is the third-largest airfreight hub in Japan, following the success of both Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport.

The airport is located approximately 30 minutes south of central Tokyo, consisting of three terminal buildings. Terminal 1 is mainly used by JAL and its subsidiary airlines; terminal 2 is mainly used by ANA and its subsidiary airlines, while the international terminal is used by a small number of international flights.

Haneda Airport handled 832,854 tonnes of cargo in 2006, an increase of 4.3% compared to the previous year.

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