News #68 - Top 25 air forwarders: K+N keeps the lead in a tough year for airfreight


Kuehne+Nagel (K+N) maintained its position as the world’s leading airfreight forwarder in 2023 ahead of DHL Global Forwarding despite overall market volumes coming under pressure (full chart at end of article).

Figures produced by consultant Armstrong and Associates show that top air forwarder K+N last year saw its cargo volumes decline by 11.2% year on year to 2m tonnes – a trend reflected by many of its top rivals.

Second-placed DHL Global Forwarding registered a 12.1% fall to 1.7m tonnes, there was a 16.2% fall at third placed DSV to 1.3m tonnes and DB Schenker registered a 13.4% fall to 1.1m tonnes.

However, the market did pick up in the final quarter of the year thanks to the ongoing e-commerce fuelled boom in demand and the start of the Red Sea crisis in ocean shipping.

“In 2023, the market was characterised by an ongoing decrease in demand for air transport services until the end of the third quarter,” K+N said in its annual report.

“At the end of the year, it has turned towards a situation of strong demand for export capacities out of China due to the surge of e-commerce activities. This has led to subsequent pressure on the yields.”

DSV attributed its below-market airfreight volume performance to pricing discipline and focus on high-yield cargo.

The overall top 25 freight forwarders saw their air cargo volumes in 2023 drop by 9.8% year on year to 15.3m tonnes, the Armstrong and Associate figures show.

US and Japanese forwarders largely followed the trend of their European competitors as the air cargo market suffered the effects of weaker consumer spending due to inflationary pressures and modal shift back to ocean after the logjam issues experienced in box shipping during 2021/2022.

Japanese firms generally had the most difficult year as the country’s economy struggled – ending the year with two consecutive quarters of GDP decline and three consecutive quarterly declines in domestic demand.

China-based forwarders, on the other hand, had a bumper year as the country’s economy began to reopen allowing a bounce back from 2022 performance.

For example, the country’s largest forwarder, Sinotrans, posted a 15.5% increase in demand last year to 902,000 tonnes, following on from a decline in 2022.

Forwarders from the country would also have been best positioned to benefit from the surge in e-commerce volumes being flown by air as the year progressed.

Mergers and acquisitions also had an impact on the market in 2023. Bolloré Logistics saw its volumes decline by 10.3%, but this masks the separation of its African logistics business that resulted in a split in the business and a restatement of its 2022 performance by its new owner CMA CGM Group.

The company has since been merged with CMA CGM’s other logistics business, CEVA Logistics, and in the 2024 table, the two will be combined to create a new top-10 player.

Moving in the opposite direction was Maersk Logistics, which was the fastest grower in terms of percentage increase and also climbed the most places on the chart.

The Danish shipping giant saw its volumes increase by 39.5% year on year to 295,000 and it jumped from position 25 on the chart to 16.

The increase was the result of the firm’s acquisition strategy as it benefitted from the purchase of Senator International and Pilot Freight Services.

The deals were completed in mid-2022 so 2023 was the first year Maersk benefitted from a full-year of owning the two companies.

Later in 2022, Maersk also completed the acquisition of Hong Kong-headquartered LF Logistics.


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