FedEx Corp.’s home airport in Memphis, Tennessee, remained the world’s busiest for cargo for the 18th straight year as the gap with Hong Kong widened because of a drop in shipments from Asia during the global recession.
Memphis International Airport handled 3.698 million metric tons of freight in 2009, a gain of 0.04 percent from 2008, according to airport data, while Hong Kong International Airport said cargo traffic fell 7.7 percent to 3.35 million metric tons.
The results faded a challenge from Hong Kong, which consultant Air Cargo Management Group had predicted might surpass Memphis in freight volume in 2008 before the recession weighed on global demand. Memphis’s 3.696 million metric tons that year kept it ahead of Hong Kong’s 3.63 million metric tons.
“Toward the end of the year, we definitely saw some sequential growth taking place, and things are on an upward slope,” said Robert Dahl, a consultant at Air Cargo Management in Seattle. “The U.S. market has also done better than Asia in recent months, so that’s helping FedEx and Memphis.”
FedEx, the world’s largest air-freight shipper, said in December that volume in its express unit slid 1 percent for the first fiscal quarter, the best result in five quarters.
The company added some volume when Deutsche Post AG’s DHL unit halted its U.S. domestic operations in late 2008 and early 2009, Dahl said. Air Cargo Management estimates DHL’s U.S. volume was split about equally between FedEx and United Parcel Service Inc.
Biggest Air Hub
FedEx has its biggest hub for air packages in its hometown of Memphis, where it accounts for more than 95 percent of the airport’s cargo volume.
Memphis has been the world’s busiest cargo airport since 1992, when Airports Council International began keeping statistics. That group won’t certify last year’s freight results until later in 2010.
“In 2009, FedEx thinned flights to some of their regional hubs and flowed them through Memphis, so our numbers are correspondingly higher,” Janice Young, an airport spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message. “Overall, FedEx did a bit better than the other airlines by better management of their flow.”
As the U.S. economy continues to strengthen, Memphis expects a volume increase again this year, she said.
Hong Kong’s cargo traffic plunged in each of the first three quarters of last year as U.S. and European consumers pared spending on Asian-made goods amid the recession and rising job concerns. Throughput surged 16 percent in the fourth quarter as retailers rushed to replenish inventories for the holiday shopping season.
“Business is gradually flowing back,” said Cathy Cheung, a spokeswoman for Airport Authority Hong Kong. “In light of signs of improvement in the global economy and continued strong growth on the Mainland, we expect growth to return in 2010.”
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