The leading global airline association says 2020 was the worst year for global air cargo since it began keeping track thirty years ago. Miami International Airport sees things differently.
For MIA, 2020 was a record year for cargo, as volume rose 3% to 2.32 million tons. The last three months of the year were the airport’s three busiest cargo months ever, averaging about 210,000 tons. Total 2020 cargo flights, including arrivals and departures, reached a record 59,000.
The coronavirus crisis upended global aviation, with passenger traffic down about 67%. Normally, about 50% of the world’s air cargo is carried in the bellies of passenger aircraft,
“It makes sense that Miami would have a good year,” said Emir Pineda, MIA trade and logistics manager. “Early on in the pandemic, we saw a shift of cargo capacity to cargo aircraft.
“With a lot of freighter operators in Miami, more than any other airport in the western world, we benefitted,” Pineda said. Nearly 100 cargo airlines operate at MIA, already the number one U.S. airport for international cargo.
Essentially, an increase in e-commerce goods and pharmaceutical supplies including vaccines was layered on top of Miami’s traditional cargoes, which include fresh flowers, fish and other perishable products.
Globally, however, demand for air cargo decreased by 10.6% in 2020, the largest drop in year-on-year demand since the International Air Travel Association started to monitor cargo performance in 1990. IATA represents 290 global airlines.
A quick look at Miami’s top seven cargo carriers clearly shows the impact of the 2020 trends.
The top cargo carrier at MIA in 2020 was Atlas Air
The number three through six MIA cargo carriers were Latin American airlines Tampa Cargo; LATAM and LATAM Cargo Colombia, the carrier’s separate cargo division.
“We saw the largest percentage increase to Europe, but our core base, our bread and butter, is really perishables (from) Latin America, — flowers, fish and vegetables.” Pineda said. About 62% of all the perishables flown into the U.S. come through Miami, he said.
“Look at the flower industry; 89% come through Miami,” Pineda said, and the pandemic brought no change. “Flowers are still one of the most important industry segments,” he said. “Demand is still very strong.” About 325 million roses passed through MIA in 2020: Most come from Colombia and Ecuador.
As for Europe, Pineda said MIA saw an increase, particularly to Belgium Airport, which like MIA has a rare IATA designation as a pharmaceutical freight hub.
“Transporting healthcare products by air demands a rigorous logistical approach,” IATA said on its pharma products handling website. “Upholding a shipment’s quality requires specific equipment, storage facilities, harmonized handling procedures and, above all, strong cooperation among the cold chain partners.”
During 2020, the Miami-Brussels cargo route got 13 new cargo flights by DHL Express
Besides vaccines from Belgium, MIA also handles flights of vaccines made in Puerto Rico and bound for Europe.
Miami is the country’s fifth largest cargo airport, trailing Memphis, Louisville and Anchorage – which differ in that they are primarily cargo airports. Miami International is also the country’s 12th largest passenger airport, with 44 million passengers in 2020.
American, the largest passenger carrier in Miami, ranked as the airport’s number nine cargo carrier. Because many passenger flights were halted by the pandemic, American’s Miami cargo volume fell by 43% to about 78,000 tons. However, American has started to fly Boeing