Air cargo rebounding at Atlanta’s airport; still trails most prior years

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s airport posted a gain in cargo handled in the first quarter of 2015 compared to 2014. However, the tonnage remains below the amount handled during the same period in three of four previous years.

Delta air cargo

Delta transported 31 percent of the cargo handled in 2014 at Atlanta’s airport. Delta handled twice the tonnage of FedEx, which handled the second highest amount of tonnage through Atlanta, according to an airport report. Credit:

The airport recorded a 9.6 percent increase in the weight of air freight handled in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the first quarter of 2014.

Here’s a snapshot of the metric tons handled in first quarters dating to 2011. That’s the oldest year for which figures are provided on the airport’s website:

  • 2015 – 141,524
  • 2014 – 129,180
  • 2013 – 141,923
  • 2012 – 150,586
  • 2011 – 154,766

To put these figures in perspective, the airport handled 601,270 metric tons in the entire year of 2014. That represented a decrease of 2.5 percent compared to the 616,365 metric tons handled in 2013, according to an airport report.

Most of the increase this year was due to the increase of international cargo, which represents 61 percent of the total freight volume at Atlanta’s airport.

The increase reported for the first quarter of this year was 11.99 percent for international cargo, and 5.9 percent for domestic cargo, according to a statement released by Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“This latest airport traffic report shows that our efforts to ensure that the airport remains the economic engine for the metro Atlanta region are yielding positive results,” Aviation General Manager Miguel Southwell said in the statement. “Increasing cargo traffic is our top strategic priority as we look to grow jobs and increase revenue.”

The airport’s draft master plan for the airport’s expansion calls for greater cargo handling facilities. The plan states:

  • “Cargo facility expansion will be necessary to accommodate long term cargo growth in all categories. Some facility elements (truck staging) are currently inefficient/inadequate and may be addressed sooner.”

The plan goes on to identify shortfalls in capacity:

  • “The North Cargo Building which serves FedEx, Southwest, and other non-scheduled all-cargo operators is reaching the end of its useful life and will likely require significant investment or reconstruction. Additionally, the facility has deficient landside area that limits its efficiency.
  • “The Recommended Plan includes redevelopment of the North Cargo Area contiguous to the South Cargo Area creating a cargo corridor between Runways 9R-27L and 10- 28. Truck access to this site would be readily available to I-85 to the west. Cargo expansion would also be accommodated in this corridor through redevelopment of the City South Hangar on the east end of the site.”

The airport has three main cargo areas that provide 2 million square feet of warehouse space, according to the airport’s website. The airport also houses perishables complex that is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides a fumigation chamber.

Atlanta’s airport is the only airport in the southeast with USDA approval to apply cold treatment, an alternative to methyl bromide, a fumigant used to control pests that has been linked to ozone depletion.



David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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