As Demand for Air Cargo Capacity Levels off in 2019, Canada’s Top 5 Airports for Air Freight Are Paying Attention to both Quantity AND Quality
After China, the US’s second-largest goods trading partner is Canada. $617.2 billion USD in goods in 2018 crossed the two nations’ 8,991 km (5,525 mi) border, largely by road and by rail. But for some products, trucks, and trains just aren’t fast enough: only Air will do. For example, Canada is the world’s 3rd largest exporter of crab, lobster, and other shellfish, exporting $2.3 billion USD in crustaceans in 2017 (with 49% going to the US, 40% to Asia, and 11% to Europe) — so chances are good that the snow crab legs you might have enjoyed at your favorite seafood restaurant passed through one of the airports on this list.
The top 5 cargo airports in Canada collectively moved some 1.27 million metric tons in 2018, about 5.7% more than the previous year. And this was after growing some 13.6% in 2017. Of the airports on this list, only YYC in Calgary saw a decrease, while #4 YUL & #5 YMX, both in Montreal and operated by the same airport authority, saw the greatest increases in 2018: 10.9% and 11% respectively.
Here are the 5 busiest airports in Canada for air cargo/freight for 2018, based on total metric tons moved, according to airport figures:
1. Pearson International Airport, Toronto (YYZ)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 560,059
YoY Increase: 3.9%
Pearson International in Toronto handled 45% of the Canada’s air cargo in 2018 — and nearly 50 million passengers — making it the busiest airport in the country in both categories. The airport offers scheduled freighter service to Europe, Asia, and Latin America (and of course, Canada’s largest trading partner the US). YYZ has 5 runways and boasts 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space. Cargo was up 3.9% in 2018 after growing 14.1% in 2017. But rather than tonnage, YYZ is focused on “providing efficiency and markets to air shippers and forwarders”, as well as maximizing revenue/returns per cubic meter. To this end, the airport is concentrating on attracting more perishables, pharmaceutical, and technology business rather than bulky, less profitable e-commerce traffic.
DB Schenker offers full-service Dry Cargo Air Export and Import operations in Toronto, with over 30,000 ft2 in warehouse facilities. They also have Regulated Agent status with Transport Canada, allowing them to perform their own in-house cargo screening.
2. Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 338,000
YoY Increase: 8.1%
Vancouver International is an important hub between Asia and North America, rivaling other west coast airports such as LAX and SFO. It’s strategically located a mere 14km (8.7 miles) or a 20-minute drive from the Port of Vancouver, and less than 50km (30 miles) to the Canada/US border. YVR puts special emphasis maximizing cargo transfer efficiency by cooperating with forwarders and trucking companies; as Ray Segat, Director of Cargo and Business Development, aptly pointed out to JOC.com, “If something takes two days to deliver, why fly it?” YVR has over 1 million ft2 of cargo warehouse/office space and operates 24/7. Although focused on quality over quantity, tonnage still increased by 8.1% in 2018.
DB Schenker has over 20,000 ft2 of warehouse space (including 13,000 ft2 of cooler and 400 ft2 of freezer capacity) and offers full service Perishable and Dry Cargo Air Export and Import operations in Vancouver. Its team of 30 includes 4 on-site Dangerous Goods and 10 Perishable handling specialists.
3. Calgary International Airport (YYC)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 146,000
YoY Increase: -0.7% (decrease)
Calgary is located on the intersection of the CANAMEX Corridor (running North and South) and the Trans-Canada Highway (running East and West), and is an important gateway for shipments from Asia, Europe, and LATAM. Over 140 destinations worldwide can be reached from YYC. Although Calgary has the smallest metro population on this list (1.4 million), the airport claims proximity to 50 million people within a day’s drive. The airport operates 24/7 and has 4 runways, including the longest runway in Canada: 14,000ft long by 200ft wide (4267m x 61m). Total cargo declined slightly in 2018 (by 1,000 metric tons), after increasing 7.7% to 147,000 metric tons in 2017.
4. Montréal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 122,779
YoY Increase: 10.9%
Of the two airports in Montréal, YUL is the newer, more centrally located, more passenger-focused airport, whereas YMX is more focused on air cargo. However, since so much of Canada’s air cargo depends on belly-lift rather than dedicated freight service, YUL still came out ahead in metric tons compared to its neighbor 45km (28 miles) to the North-West. A large ratio of YUL’s 19.2 million passengers in 2018 — the highest percentage of any Canadian airport — are bound for international destinations; this translates into quite a long list of countries from which it can ship and receive air freight (currently 151). Air cargo tonnage was up 10.9% in 2018, after a 7.8% increase in 2017.
DB Schenker has over 28,000 ft2 of warehouse space serving YUL and offers full-service Dry Cargo Air Export and Import operations with a staff of 5 bi-lingual (English and French).
5. International Aerocity of Mirabel (YMX)
2018 Cargo in Metric Tons: 107,660
YoY Increase: 11%
Both YMX and YUL are operated by Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), an independent non-profit, which positions YMX as “the business destination brand of the ADM family”. Of course, it’ll take more than branding to fully develop the 1975 facility into “a world-class all-cargo and aerospace hub,” but so far they’ve received high marks: “They’re quite organized here,” remarked one cargo agent. Besides freight airlines and cargo charter flights, the airport has succeeded in courting integrators such as UPS, DHL, FedEx, and Purolator. Collectively, these efforts have resulted in a hefty 11% increase in cargo tonnage in 2018, this on top of a 7.2% increase in 2017.
The Outlook for 2019
So far in 2019, worldwide demand for air cargo has been volatile, in part due to the continuing trade dispute between the US and China. However, the most recent forecast from IATA suggests that North American carriers will still manage to make a $15 billion USD profit in 2019 (up from $14.5 billion in 2018). Hopefully, this bodes well for Canada’s top cargo airports, as they continue to focus on improving services and intermodal options, with a view to further reducing transit times while increasing both volume and profitability. Sounds like a win-win!