Every year, millions of tons of freight move through American airports. Every time you order a package from a retailer on the other side of the country online, ship a present to a far-away relative, or buy something at the store that isn’t produced locally, chances are it gets to you by plane. Chances are, as well, that it goes through some of these very busy cargo airports.
Table of Contents
- 15. Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Honolulu
- 14. Chicago/Rockford International Airport
- 13. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- 12. Metro Oakland International Airport
- 11. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- 10. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
- 9. Ontario International Airport
- 8. Indianapolis International Airport
- 7. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
- 6. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
- 5. Miami International Airport
- 4. Los Angeles International Airport
- 3. Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport
- 2. Memphis International Airport
- 1. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
Most airports move both people and things. They have designated cargo and passenger terminals. If you know which airports are the busiest passenger airports in the US, a lot of the names on this list will be familiar.
However, some of the busiest cargo airports don’t move a lot of people. That’s because the factors that make a cargo airport successful aren’t the same as the ones that make an airport successful for passengers. These factors include lack of congestion, availability of handling facilities and flight connections, and a convenient location in the network.
Here are the busiest cargo airports in the US based on preliminary freight numbers from 2021.
15. Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Honolulu
Hawaii’s Daniel K. Inouye Airport is one of the busiest cargo airports in the country. In 2021, the airport moved 3.349 million pounds in freight.
Daniel K. Inouye airport is on an island archipelago, Hawaii, which is highly dependent on air cargo for supplies. It also has a convenient location for shipping freight from the United States to Asia.
The airport increased its cargo traffic over recent years thanks to a new cargo terminal and a shift from ocean freight to air during the pandemic.
14. Chicago/Rockford International Airport
Chicago/Rockford International Airport often gets overshadowed by its larger neighbor, O’Hare, but this airport is nothing to sneeze at either. In 2021, it moved 3,410 million pounds of cargo.
According to some statistics, Rockford International Airport is the fastest-growing cargo airport in the world. Although some passengers also travel through this airport, its primary focus is cargo.
The airport’s strategic location in the Midwest and partnerships with cargo airlines such as Atlas Air and ABX Air are fueling this growth.
13. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta is the busiest passenger airport in the United States and the world. However, its cargo operations are nothing to sneeze at either. In 2021, the airport transported 3,651 million pounds of cargo, earning it “only” 13th place.
Hartsfield-Jackson’s convenient location within flight networks makes it a popular choice for cargo airlines and the cargo side of popular passenger airlines such as Delta alike.
The amount of cargo moving through this airport will probably grow thanks to its new Worldwide Flight Services terminal.
12. Metro Oakland International Airport
Oakland, California, is a center for shipping via ocean and via air. In 2021, 3,901 million pounds of cargo passed through Metro Oakland International Airport.
This airport is only a medium-sized airport in terms of passenger traffic but one of the leaders in the country for moving cargo.
Its convenient location on the West Coast and near the Port of Oakland, one of the largest ports in the United States, probably help its success.
11. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the country in terms of both passenger and cargo traffic. In 2021, the airport moved 3,915 million pounds of cargo.
DFW’s passenger success helped grow its cargo shipping branch as the infrastructure for cargo planes, such as runways and hangars, is already present.
The airport’s convenient location, no more than four hours via plane from all major US cities, makes it a popular transit hub for international freight.
10. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
New York’s JFK Airport is one of the busiest in the country in terms of passenger and cargo traffic. In 2021, 5,021 million pounds of cargo passed through its terminals.
The secret to JFK’s cargo success? Location, location, location. John F. Kennedy International Airport is located in New York, which is the nation’s top city for freight shipping according to some statistics.
Over the past few years, the Port Authority, which runs the airport, has also made a distinct effort to modernize cargo facilities which has attracted more companies.
9. Ontario International Airport
No, this is not a typo—Ontario International Airport is in California, not Canada. This regional California airport moved 5,345 million pounds of cargo in 2021.
The airport’s facilities and location help its success. It is only a few miles away from Los Angeles but also well-connected to California’s Inland Empire, where many Amazon facilities are located. Its runways are actually longer than those at LAX, making it more attractive for large planes.
Ontario International Airport is the official West Coast hub for UPS Airlines and serves other large cargo airlines such as Amazon Air and FedEx Express.
8. Indianapolis International Airport
Indianapolis may be more famous for its car racing, but there are also plenty of planes flying in and out, particularly cargo planes. In 2021, the airport moved 7,160 million pounds of cargo.
Indianapolis International’s 2021 cargo numbers set records for the airport which is continuing to invest in its cargo facilities.
Almost all of the airport’s cargo traffic comes from FedEx, which uses Indianapolis as one of its hubs and is investing further into its hub there.
7. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport may be just a medium regional airport in terms of passenger traffic, but it punches above its weight in terms of freight traffic. In 2021, 8,505 million pounds of cargo went through the airport.
The airport’s cargo growth was part of a determined growth strategy set a decade ago to diversify its revenue streams. The numbers show that the plan succeeded.
Most of its traffic numbers come from global shipping giant DHL, which operates a hub there. The cargo at this airport will only grow as Amazon Air looks to open a hub of its own.
6. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Once upon a time, Chicago O’Hare was the largest airport in the world. Even though it fell in the rankings, neither its passenger nor cargo numbers are anything to sneeze at—the airport moved 8,591 million pounds of cargo in 2021.
Since it’s so big, that means O’Hare has enough infrastructure to support large cargo airlines and the planes they use to move goods.
The convenient location and easy access to transfers don’t hurt either.
5. Miami International Airport
Miami International Airport is the busiest international airport in the country, both in terms of passengers and freight. In 2021, it moved 11,284 million pounds of cargo.
International traffic makes up an important part of Miami International Airport’s operations as it has important links to Latin America as well as other continents.
MIA is particularly an important hub for pharmaceutical cargo.
4. Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles International Airport is one of the most important cargo and passenger airports in the world. In 2021, it moved a whopping 14,789 million pounds of cargo.
LAX’s prime location is responsible for these numbers. Los Angeles is an important gateway between the United States’ West Coast and Asia. The airport is also near the country’s biggest port, the Port of Los Angeles.
LAX might move up in the rankings as it had record-breaking months in early 2022.
3. Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport
In 2021, Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport moved 17,506 million pounds of cargo. That represents billions of dollars in value, a precious resource for the US and local economy.
UPS is responsible for much of the traffic coming out of this airport as its Worldport hub is located here. The Worldport is one of the world’s largest package-handling facilities.
Many packages go through here for processing before flying onward to their destination within the country.
2. Memphis International Airport
For any other airport, moving 24,867 million pounds of cargo in one year would be impressive. For Memphis International Airport, dropping to #2 after years as the busiest cargo airport in the United States is a downgrade.
Memphis moves so much cargo because FedEx, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, uses the airport as a hub. FedEx employs 11,000 people and sends out 400 flights a day from Memphis.
Besides FedEx, Memphis International Airport is a significant hub for other shipping companies such as UPS.
1. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
After years as the second-busiest cargo airport in the United States, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport narrowly beat out Memphis for the #1 spot with 24,870 million pounds of cargo in 2021.
Although Alaska doesn’t have a large population, it has a great location. This airport is an important hub for trade between Asia and North America. Many jets stop at Anchorage to fuel up even if they don’t transfer goods.
Anchorage International Airport saw its cargo operations grow during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the airport modernizes, it will attract even more cargo traffic. It might stay in the top slot for a while.