John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY-Air Freight Gateway

John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY-Air Freight Gateway

John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York was the nation’s busiest international air freight gateway by value of shipments. And it was the second busiest overall by value when compared with all U.S. freight gateways—air, land, and sea.

In 2003, over 21 percent of the value of all U.S. international air freight moved through JFK airport. By weight, JFK ranks third among all air gateways, with 11 percent of U.S. international air freight tonnage passing through it.

JFK airport serves as a major hub for movement of bidirectional air freight between the United States and Europe. In 2003, the top three JFK origin-destination trade route pairs on nonstop segments were in Europe—London, Brussels, and Frankfurt. However, information on the actual markets from which goods are imported and to which goods are exported, shows that most of the markets are actually in Asia and that Europe’s hub airports are only a link in this global supply chain. In 2003, the top origin markets for merchandise imports through JFK airport were Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taipei with London taking the fourth spot. Similarly, the top destination markets for merchandise exports from JFK airport were Tokyo, Seoul, and London.1 It is possible that merchandise goods are transported by air or other modes to more specific locations beyond these origin and destination hub gateways. However, the data needed to analyze a shipment’s entire history are unavailable.

Between 1999 and 2003, the value of merchandise air freight passing through JFK airport increased 7 percent, while the total weight of the cargo declined by 12 percent because of changes in the mix of the goods handled and the shipment of higher value-per-ton products. Some of the merchandise imported through JFK airport includes woven and knit apparel, machinery, electrical machinery, medical instruments, and footwear. Similarly, major commodities exported through JFK include machinery, electrical machinery, medical instruments, plastics, and paper.2

Nearly 100 air carriers operate out of JFK, but the top two carriers for air freight, American Airlines and the German airline, Lufthansa, together transported 21 percent of the imports and 17 percent of the exports in 2003.3

In recent years JFK ranked as the number one gateway in the country by value of international merchandise trade, but in 2003 fell behind the maritime Port of Los Angeles. After some sluggish growth, the U.S. economy appears to be rebounding and international air cargo is expected to rise.

1 Based on Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Office of Airline Information, Form 41 International Market Data. Similar origin-destination airport-pair data by value are not available from the merchandise trade data.

2 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, available at as of Oct. 7, 2004

3 Federal Express Corp. also has a large facility at JFK airport, but BTS data have only limited information about these FedEx operations.