Latin American and the Caribbean airports account for 5% of the global share of international air freight traffic and 4% of the global share of domestic traffic, according to the 2017 ACI World Airport Traffic Report. Considering that air cargo itself represents less than 1% of all cargo shipped, that may not sound like much. But when you consider that the value of the goods shipped by air is an incredible $6 Trillion USD, or 35% of the value of all goods shipped annually, it puts LATAM’s 4-5% share — and the billions of dollars it represents — into perspective.
Because air cargo is so valuable, freight traffic speaks volumes about the health of a region’s economy, the effects of trade policy, weather events, and other factors. For this reason, we took a closer look at the 10 busiest LATAM airports for air freight.
According to the total amount of metric tons moved in 2018, the top LATAM airports are:
1. El Dorado International Airport (BOG)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 741,501
YoY Increase: 4.9%
Bogota has by far the busiest cargo airport in Latin America. In the last 10 years, BOG’s YoY air cargo volume has increased by 45%, which roughly corresponds to Colombia’s 32% increase in GDP over the same period. Columbia plays a vital role in the global healthcare industry. It’s also the second-largest exporter of cut flowers (after the Netherlands) at $1.4B in 2017. The airport features 71,000 m2 in warehouse and office space, 63 cargo gates and space for 25 aircraft to simultaneously load and unload cargo.
DB Schenker operates in Colombia in an exclusive partnership with Sunrise Cargo SAS, an authorized IATA agent, which features 120 employees and has over 10k m2 of warehouse space.
2. Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX)
Mexico City, Mexico
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 581,675
YoY Increase: 8.6%
Moving into second place for air cargo volume, MEX also holds the top spot in LATAM for passenger volume: 47.7 million in 2018. This makes MEX the 33rd busiest passenger airport in the world. Between passengers and cargo, the airport’s 2 parallel runways are just about at 100% of their capacity. In 2014, a new airport to serve Mexico City’s 20 million people was approved. However, the project was canceled in October of 2018, after failing to survive a referendum vote, with about a third of the construction completed and $5B already invested. Meanwhile, a new airport to be built on the former Santa Lucía Air Force Base was approved in July 2019 after passing the environmental review. In the short term, it’s unclear how MEX can sustain the increase in cargo traffic it saw in 2017 and 2018, but it may not need to: while trade was up 1.8% between Mexico and its largest trading partner, the US, in April of 2019, airfreight volumes were flat during the same period. For more information on Mexico’s busiest cargo airports, click here.
DB Schenker offers customs clearance services at MEX and operates 30,000 ft2 of bonded warehouse space, including 52,000 cubic ft of refrigerated space (both 15-25°C climate-controlled 2-8°C cold chain space available).
3. Guarulhos International Airport (GRU)
São Paulo, Brazil
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 552,278
YoY Increase: 1.7%
Locally known as the Cumbica Airport, GRU was edged out of the #2 spot by MEX after sub 2% growth in 2018. The airport did, however, enjoy nearly 7% growth in 2017, and it still accounts for about 10% of all LATAM airfreight traffic. DB Schenker Brazil’s customers saw better numbers in 2018, with 10% outbound and 20% inbound increases. However, according to Fernando Fetter, Director of Airfreight at DB Schenker Brazil, this illustrates another challenge: the imbalance between inbound and outbound freight. “While inbound airfreight is fairly consistent and lucrative, outbound traffic is irregular and therefore commands lower rates … this leads airlines, especially freighter operators, to seek alternative markets in South America.” The problem is further exacerbated by generally high landing fees (although GRU did experiment with a 100% landing-fee exemption from Q2 2016 to Q1 2017).
Another challenge that continues to plague GRU is long wait times. Fetter says: “a 24-48 hour airfreight export time frame may be extended to 48-96 hours due to pre-transport delays and airport inefficiencies”. It turns out that when they were privatized, airports in Brazil agreed in advance to large lump-sum payments to the government at pre-determined intervals, based on the promise of steady economic development. Since such development never really materialized, airports such as GRU have been forced to cut staff, reduce service hours, delay repairs & maintenance of critical equipment, etc. as they struggle to stay profitable. “At GRU trucks can only dock within pre-booked times,” explains Fetter, “it’s a challenging market that demands a lot of flexibility and the high level of service that can only be provided by experienced freight forwarders such as DB Schenker.”
DB Schenker is one of Brazil’s top 5 freight forwarders and offers operational support at GRU to handle documentation, in/outbound warehouse, delivery/pickup trucking, and logistics within Brazil and beyond.
4. Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 420,954
YoY Increase: 13.4%
SCL saw double-digit growth in 2018, strengthening its hold on the #4 slot on this list. The airport has the distinction of being the longest non-stop destination for a number of European carriers, as well as South America’s main gateway to Oceana destinations such as Sydney and Melbourne. Recently, however, Chile has been aggressively pursuing “bigger fish”. To illustrate, last February Santiago-based LATAM Cargo added twice-weekly service to Chicago, primarily to deliver Asia-bound Salmon. Thanks to Chicago-Asia interline partners, the carrier is able to offer transpacific transit times of less than 35 hours, which is a big deal for a country that is exporting some 700 metric tons of Salmon a week (Chile exported more than $3B in fish in 2017). The Asian market also snapped-up 80% of Chile’s fresh cherry crop last year, valued at nearly half a billion USD. Besides cherries, the country has an abundance of blueberries, asparagus and cut flowers to export, so it seems that air freight capacity demand will continue to grow.
DB Schenker has 104 employees and 6,300 m2 of warehouse capacity in Santiago and offers Air Freight import/export services and Customs clearance services, as well as Contract Logistics and Distribution services.
5. Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 294,703
YoY Increase: 3.9%
Chile is not the only country with its eye on the Asian market — Peru is reportedly in negotiations with China to update its 2009 free trade agreement. The country has been emerging as an important fruit and vegetable exporter to the world since the mid-80s. In 2017, Peru’s Customs and Tax Administration and National Agricultural Sanitation Service simplified control proceedings for short perishables, facilitating quicker exports. Currently, Peru is the world’s second-largest exporter of asparagus (just after Mexico, see Managing Peru’s Cold Food Chain Logistics), but it has its eye on taking the top spot this year. Last year the country also exported approximately $500M worth of blueberries; it’s looking to replace Chile as the world’s top blueberry exporter as early as 2021. Other exports include cacao, nuts, textiles, and even Tesla window glass; important imports include hi-tech, spare parts and pharmaceuticals.
Schenker Peru has 70 employees and provides customs brokerage services at LIM. It maintains additional offices in Lima Cargo City, where it offers warehousing, including refrigerated and cold storage, provided in partnership with Talma Peru.
6. Viracopos International Airport (VCP)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 241,324
YoY Increase: 18.1%
The airport in Campinas is not far from Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo, and therefore shares many of the same issues. However, there is one significant difference: last year, VPC grew faster than any other LATAM airport. It grew 18.1% in 2018 (compared to GRU’s lackluster 1.7%), moving up two places on this list. At least some of its growth can be attributed to an increase in fruit exports — Brazil is the world’s 3rd largest fruit producer, yet it ranks 23rd in exports. So in 2018, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to increase fruit exports. DB Schenker’s Fernando Fetter, mentioned earlier, notes that they have made significant incursions into this market. “Our teams are trained to handle cold-chain shipments from a coordinating/documental aspect with great expertise,” says Fetter, which also benefits other perishables that require special handlings, such as beef and fresh fish. “And 80% of the perishables we handle flows through either Viracops (VCP) or Guarulhos (GRU).”
With some 600 employees and 12 branches, DB Schenker, one of Brazil’s largest Brokerage services, is able to offer door-to-door road and road-air services within Brazil and beyond.
7. Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 233,696
YoY Increase: 11.2%
Flowers are a big deal at Quito’s UIO airport. Ecuador is the 3rd largest exporter in the world (after Columbia), moving almost $1B annually. And demand is growing, prompting carriers such as Emirates SkyCargo to add flights — the carrier now operates 4 flights a week and estimates it has shipped some 50,000 tons of flowers over the last 5 years. But Ecuador exports far more shrimp and prawns — over $3 B in 2017. So having a new, modern airport with 12,000 m2 of warehouse space with cold-chain capabilities on site (and with the potential to add another 18,000 m2 when needed), definitely gives the airport an advantage. UIO’s cargo volumes have increased year over year since it opened in 2013, with the double digit growth in 2017 and 2018.
DB Schenker provides air, land and ocean services in Ecuador through its partnership with SAMISA, which specializes transporting perishables by air and ocean.
8. Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: not available
YoY Increase: not available
Cargo statistics for 2018 were unavailable for EZE, also known as the Ezeiza International Airport, at the time of publication. But volumes grew 11.2% in 2017 to a total of 215,200 metric tons, so even a modest 2% growth would be enough to keep the airport ahead of 9th place on this list. However, to maintain 6th place as it was in 2017 would require over 12% growth YoY. So we’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, Terminal de Cargas (TCA) at EZE announced its second expansion of on-site cold-storage facilities in September of 2019, adding 810 m2 of temperature-controlled and 3410 m2 of cold-storage. TCA already had 85,000 m2 of on-site warehouse space, with 17,500 cubic meters of temperature-controlled space that allows for 3 levels of control (-20°C, 2-8°C, and 15-25°C). TCA’s warehouse space is modular and can be adapted to various loads as needed, making EZE one of the most technologically advanced airports for cold-chain logistics. It also has 22 import and 17 export cargo docks, features pallets scanning at unloading and has space designated for handling dangerous goods. Primary air exports include agricultural products, perishables, and chemicals; while imports include electronics, machinery and auto parts, and pharmaceuticals.
DB Schenker has over 290 employees in Argentina, including on-site staff in the Customs-restricted TCA area, and is therefore able to expedite cargo through the airport, while quickly resolving issues as they arise.
9. Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 219,440
YoY Increase: 12.4%
Puerto Rico’s economy is supported by pharmaceuticals, textiles, petrochemicals, and electronics manufacturing, and as such SJU is the busiest airport in the Caribbean. The airport grew 12.4% in 2018. While some of that increase was no doubt due to an influx of relief supplies desperately needed after the category 5 hurricane Maria hit the island on September 20, 2017, the airport saw an even greater increase the previous year: YoY growth was 13% in 2017.
DB Schenker offers cargo services in Puerto Rico through its offices located in Miami, FL.
10. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Guadalajara International Airport (GDL)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 159,220
YoY Increase: 3.2%
Rounding out this list is GDL in Guadalajara, the second busiest airport in Mexico. The recently expanded cargo operations at GDL covers some 6.7 acres and is able to accommodate aircraft of all sizes. Two of the 10 busiest routes, Los Angeles-GDL and Memphis-GDL, accounted for 7.2% and 4.2% of all international air cargo to/from Mexico in 2017.
DB Schenker offers customs clearance services at GDL and specializes in electronics as well as climate-controlled operations for pharma and perishables.
What to expect in 2019
Clearly there are a lot of factors in play in the LATAM air cargo market, not the least of which are shifting trade policies and the threat of a global economic slowdown. No matter what happens, there will be winners and losers, so who will come out on top in 2019 is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we’ll keep an eye on the numbers!