Cargo has proven a key lifeline to major airlines in the Asia-Pacific, with several carriers reporting record cargo performances amid continued weakness in passenger markets.

Airlines attribute strong air cargo demand to supply chain challenges in the region, and also to North America’s voracious appetite for automotive parts and electronics.

Asiana 747-400SF Freighter Cargo

Source: Bernardo Fernandez/Wikimedia Commons

An Asiana 747-400SF in April 2021

In its fiscal third quarter to 30 September, Korean Air saw ACTKs rise 20.5%, and CTKs rise 23.5%. Cargo load factors were also strong, rising 2.1% to 84.4%.

It attributed the cargo strength to continued industrial demand from the automotive, semiconductor, and battery sectors. There is also continued demand for Covid-19 test kits and vaccines.

The carrier notes that supply chain issues, manufacturing delays and logistics bottlenecks at major ports are pushing demand for air cargo higher. It also observed that quarantines in manufacturing powerhouses such as China and Vietnam have resulted in a shortage of airport workers.

Korean observed strong cargo growth to the Americas in particular, where its cargo revenue nearly doubled.

Overall, Korean’s cargo revenue hit a record W1.7 trillion ($1.4 billion), up 62.4% year on year. The sterling cargo performance helped Korean to an operating profit of W7.6 billion.

Asiana Airlines saw third quarter cargo revenues jump 55% to W753 billion. Though ATK’s fell 7% from a year earlier, RTKs rose 11%, with cargo load factors rising 10 percentage points to 97%. This helped push the airline’s cargo yield up by 40%.

As with Korean, it noted strong cargo demand for electronic and machine parts.


Cathay Pacific Airways, in its October cargo traffic release, says cargo demand remains strong. It carried 137,000t of cargo in October, up 19.8% from a year earlier – although this was 25% lower than in October 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic caused belly hold capacity to disappear.

Cargo load factors in October rose four percentage points to 82.9%. In its 2021 interim results to 30 June, Cathay had reported cargo revenue of HK$12.7 billion ($1.6 billion), flat compared with the first half of 2020. Still, cargo yields were strong for the period, rising 24.4%.

The carrier, however, continues to suffer from Hong Kong’s onerous quarantine demands for flight crew. This situation was particularly acute in the first half of the year. 

Reporting its interim results to 30 September, Singapore Airlines enjoyed record cargo revenue of S$1.9 billion, up 51.2% from a year earlier. The addition of more belly hold capacity on passenger flights helped it boost cargo capacity by 49.5%.

“The strong cargo performance reflects the capacity crunch in both air freight and ocean freight, and ongoing supply chain disruptions driving air freight demand,” says SIA.

Overall, cargo and mail accounted for 66.3% of SIA’s first half revenue, but this was insufficient to return the airline to profitability. SIA adds that its cargo capacity recovered to 63% of pre-pandemic levels in its fiscal first half.

Japanese carriers have also continued to offset losses in their passenger business through good cargo performances.

It its interim financial results for the six months to 30 September, All Nippon Airways saw its cargo revenues nearly double to a record Y154 billion ($1.3 billion). International cargo revenues were especially strong, nearly tripling to Y138 billion.

ANA’s International ATKs rose 49.4%, while international RTKs rose 58.1%, helping international cargo yields jump 27.4%.

“By capturing demand for the transportation of goods such as automotive parts and semiconductors from Asia as well as electronic equipment and vaccines from North America and Europe, cargo volume greatly exceeded the amount transported during the same period in the previous year and quarterly revenue hit a record high,” says ANA.


As for Japan Airlines, for the first half of its 2021 financial year, it saw first half cargo revenues of Y98.3 billion, up 84% from a year earlier, and more than double the first six months of its 2019 financial year.

It also observed strong demand for automotive parts and electronics, especially to North America. Domestically, strong parcel demand continued. This helped international cargo revenue double to Y80.8 billion.

Taiwan’s China Airlines and EVA Air also posted operating profits in their third quarter to 30 September. Without providing details, both carriers pointed to strong cargo performance.

Airlines are optimistic for a continued strong cargo performance. Korean notes the continue bottlenecks and personnel shortages at airports, and awaits the typical year-end peak season for cargo, especially high-yield cargo.

SIA agrees with this view.

“The traditional year-end cargo peak period is expected to see strong demand, supported in part by retail inventory restocking before the peak shopping season,” it says.

“This comes amid an ongoing industry capacity crunch for both air freight and ocean freight. Purchasing Managers’ Indices are still in expansionary territory for key export economies, boding well for air cargo demand.”