The world of air freight has expanded massively since the outbreak of Covid-19.
While passenger travel has dropped to historic lows, cargo airlines have become very busy and passenger carriers have been converting their regular airliners into freighters in a bid to cash in on the demand.
As a result, spotters can expect to see plenty of freighters and converted airliners flying all around the world, delivering essential supplies and keeping up with the insatiable demand for ecommerce!
Most air freight goes through hub airports where it is processed and sent for onward delivery by road, or sometimes by regional freight airlines.
These are the best airports to see cargo planes:
While London Heathrow traditionally handles more cargo, largely as belly freight on airliners, East Midlands is the UK’s largest and busiest dedicated cargo facility and sees the most freighter aircraft. It is a hub for DHL, UPS and FedEx and sees many ad-hoc freighter aircraft, too.
A regional airport in Belgium, Liege is another busy freight hub. It sees many worldwide cargo airlines, like AirBridgeCargo, Air China, CAL Cargo Air Lines, Ethiopian Cargo and Qatar Airways Cargo passing through. It is also a hub for ASL Airlines.
Anchorage Ted Stevens International
Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, briefly became the world’s busiest airport at the start of the first lockdown period in mid-2020. Already a big cargo hub and transit point between Asia and North America, Anchorage grew with many more freighters passing through.
As well as large widebody airliners, Anchorage sees lots of vintage aircraft, like the Douglas DC-6, DC-9 and Curtiss C-46 operating local freight flights.
The world hub for UPS Airline. Louisville International Airport in Kentucky is known as Worldport and sees much of the airline’s freight transit through while travelling between other points around the country and globe.
Like Louisville, Memphis is the world hub for FedEx. This massive freight airline has waves of freighters passing through (mostly during the night), linking from points all across the globe, as well as from regional airports in the USA.
Schiphol Airport is a major passenger hub in Europe, but it’s also one of the continent’s busiest cargo airports.
Freighters from around the world fly in every day, with dedicated aprons on the south eastern side of the airport where you’ll usually see these parked up during the day.
Dubai International is still a busy cargo hub, despite Al Maktoum’s Dubai World Central now being in operation. As well as Emirates SkyCargo freight, the airport handles freighters from around the world and Middle East.
Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong is still the world’s busiest cargo airport. When you visit, as well as the many passenger airlines and local carrier Cathay Pacific, you’ll see lots of large freighters passing through. It just adds to the appeal of spotting at this busy Asian hub airport.
Miami International has always been the USA’s gateway to and from Central and South America, plus the islands of the Caribbean. This is a major draw for passenger flights, and also attracts cargo carriers transiting freight to the region. Often this leads to some more unusual cargo airlines not seen at other cargo hubs. Sometimes you’ll also see some older types of aircraft, often used on humanitarian flights (but these commonly use nearby airports like Opa Locka).
This airport is the world hub for DHL, with a huge facility to service its cargo aircraft transiting through. Cincinnati has also recently become a hub for Amazon’s Prime Air and its growing freight business. Between the two airlines, there are now hundreds of daily cargo aircraft movements, and this is expected to grow.
Los Angeles International
West Coast USA’s busiest airport for cargo (not counting Anchorage) is Los Angeles International, LAX. Freighters usually operate from the south side. Around 30 dedicated cargo carriers fly into Los Angeles, making it a good place for variation and seeing airlines you don’t often see elsewhere.
A large and busy cargo hub airport in Germany, Cologne/Bonn is a hub for FedEx and UPS, and many other partner airlines use the airport. They usually fly during the night, but often remain parked up during the day and can be seen from the viewing terrace on the passenger terminal.
Germany’s busiest airport for passengers also sees its fair share of freighter movements – usually large widebodies from Asia, the Middle East and North America. They normally park up on the south side of the airport, so are visible (but too far to photograph) from the viewing terrace on Terminal 2.
Europe’s main hub for FedEx Express is at Paris Charles de Gaulle. Its movements usually happen late at night, linking in from all over Europe. The airport also sees plenty of other cargo operations, like those of Air France Cargo and other worldwide airlines.
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