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A Boeing 777F of FedEx Express, which is the largest cargo airline in the world.
A Boeing 747-400F of Cargolux

Cargo airlines (or air freight carriers, and derivatives of these names) are airlines mainly dedicated to the transport of cargo by air. Some cargo airlines are divisions or subsidiaries of larger passenger airlines. In 2018, airline cargo traffic represented 262,333 million tonne-kilometres with a 49.3% load factor: 52.1% for dedicated cargo operations, and 47.9% within mixed operations (belly freight of passenger airliners).[1]

Freight rates

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, adjusted cargo capacity fell by 4.4% in February while air cargo demand also fell by 9.1%, but the near-halt in passenger traffic cut capacity even deeper as half of global air cargo is carried in passenger jets’ bellies. Air freight rates rose as a consequence, from $0.80 per kg for transatlantic cargoes to $2.50-4 per kg, enticing passenger airlines to operate cargo-only flights through the use of preighters, while cargo airlines bring back into service fuel-guzzling stored aircraft, helped by falling oil prices.[2]


UPS hub at Louisville International Airport

Air transport is a component of many international logistics networks, managing and controlling the flow of goods, energy, information and other resources like products, services, and people, from the source of production to the marketplace. Logistics involves the geographical repositioning of raw materials, work in process, and finished inventories.[3]

Aircraft used

The Antonov An-225, formerly the world's largest aircraft, used by Antonov Airlines before its destruction in the Russo-Ukrainian War

Larger cargo airlines tend to use new or recently built aircraft to carry their freight. However, many still utilize older aircraft, including those no longer suited for passenger service, like the Boeing 707, Boeing 727, Douglas DC-8, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, McDonnell Douglas MD-11, Airbus A300, and the Ilyushin Il-76. Examples of the 80+-year-old Douglas DC-3 are still flying around the world carrying cargo (as well as passengers). Short range turboprop airliners such as the Antonov An-12, Antonov An-26, Fokker Friendship, and British Aerospace ATP are being modified to accept standard air freight pallets to extend their working lives. This normally involves the replacement of glazed windows with opaque panels, the strengthening of the cabin floor and insertion of a broad top-hinged door in one side of the fuselage.

The Antonov An-225 Mriya, an enlarged version of the Antonov An-124 Ruslan, was the world's largest aircraft, used for transporting large shipments and oversized cargos.[4][5]

Usage of large military airplanes for commercial purposes, pioneered by Ukraine's Antonov Airlines in the 1990s, has allowed new types of cargo in aerial transportation.

In the past, some cargo airlines would carry a few passengers from time to time on flights, and UPS Airlines once unsuccessfully tried a passenger charter airline division.

The Boeing 747 is also widely used as a cargo aircraft. The latest aircraft in the wide-body series is the Boeing 747-8.

Type of cargo airlines

For a more comprehensive list, see Largest airlines in the world § By scheduled freight tonne-kilometers (millions).

FedEx Express, the largest airline by freight tonne-kilometres flown

By freight tonne-kilometres flown (millions):[6][7][8]

Rank Airline 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018
1 United States FedEx Express 19,547 20,660 20,656 17,503 17,499
2 United States UPS Airlines 15,889 15,529 14,371 12,842 12,695
3 Qatar Qatar Airways Cargo 14,267 16.102 13,740 13,024 12,713
4 United Arab Emirates Emirates SkyCargo 10,153 11,842 9,569 12,052 12,459
5 South Korea Korean Air Cargo 9,518 10,429 8,104 7,412 7,839
6 United States Atlas Air 8,675 8,441 5,458 4,522 4,553
7 Turkey Turkish Cargo 8,318 9,223 6,977 7,029 7,051
8 Luxembourg Cargolux 7,971 8,587 7,345 7,180 7,322
9 China China Southern Airlines Cargo 6,915 8,078 6,591 6,825 6,597
10 Taiwan China Airlines 6,359 8.215 8,137 10,930 11,284

Largest cargo carriers

Boeing 777 of the FedEx Express
A300 of European Air Transport, a subsidiary of DHL Aviation

Some more large cargo carriers are:[9]

All-cargo subsidiary

747-8 of Qatar Airways Cargo, the largest all-cargo subsidiary

The following are freight divisions of passenger airlines operating their own or leased freighter aircraft. Some have shut down or merged with others:[10]

The following are freight divisions without freighter fleets, using passenger aircraft holds or having other cargo airlines fly on their behalf. Some of these previously had freighters:

These carriers operate freighter aircraft but do not have cargo divisions:

These carriers operate freighter aircraft exclusively

See also


  1. ^ "World Air Transport Statistics" (PDF). IATA. 2019. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-08-15. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  2. ^ Cirium (3 April 2020). "Freight rates on the rise amid slump in passenger flights". Flightglobal.
  3. ^ Stattimes, Media (3 Oct 2020). "How these trends are shaping up the future of logistics". Stattimes. Stattimes. Archived from the original on 2020-11-30. Retrieved 3 Oct 2020.
  4. ^ "Chapman Freeborn charters first AN-225 to South America". Chapman Freeborn Airchartering.
  5. ^ "Argentina's First Satellite Delivered on AN-124 Cargo Charter". Chapman Freeborn Airchartering. 2 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Top 25 cargo airlines 2018: FedEx at the top as Qatar closes in on Emirates". 15 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Top 25 cargo airlines 2019: FedEx retains the top spot as Qatar climbs". 29 July 2020.
  8. ^ Jeffrey, Rebecca (2023-10-04). "Top 25 air cargo carriers: Cargo airlines tackle tough times". Air Cargo News. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  9. ^ "Top 25 cargo airlines 2018: FedEx at the top as Qatar closes in on Emirates". 15 July 2019.
  10. ^ "World's 50 largest air cargo carriers in 2014: FedEx leading the way". Air Cargo News. 15 September 2015.