Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) was extremely important to the community at the height of the pandemic, even though on the very worst passenger traffic day – in early 2020 – there were literally more people working in the airport terminal than there were passengers all day long.

 The airport remained key because, while people weren’t flying, cargo was still shipping in and out of PTIA – and the airport’s cargo numbers grew as more people ordered items online during the pandemic, in addition to other factors that also increased the flow of cargo at that time.

However, at a meeting last month of the board that oversees the airport – the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority – new statistics revealed that, while passenger traffic is going up nicely, cargo in and out of the airport has fallen significantly so far in 2023 when compared to the year-to-date numbers for 2022.

Passenger traffic stats through the end of August 2023 showed that the number of passengers using the airport was up 11 percent over the same period of time in 2022.

But, again, the amount of cargo flying in and out of the airport –well, that was a different story. In August, The amount of cargo was down 21 percent year to date.

Since there has been so much growth and economic activity in Guilford County and the surrounding counties in the last few years, it’s surprising to see that kind of drop in cargo shipments.

PTIA Executive Director Kevin Baker said that he sees the drop in cargo as primarily part of a worldwide trend of falling cargo numbers for airports everywhere.

“Worldwide, cargo has been down about the same as we have been,” Baker said.  “We’re just reflecting the rest of the world.”

 Baker added that, while cargo shipments at PTIA have fallen in the first part of 2023, there’s still a lot of room for optimism.  He pointed to a “significant inflection change” from July to August at PTIA and he hopes that jump will play out as the start of a new trend back upward.

Baker said, “While we are still seeing downturn related to global air freight slowdown – due to Chinese uncertainties, Ukraine, etc. – in one month we just about closed the gap. August really picked up. I hope it’s a new trend.”

According to worldwide stats that Baker follows closely, air cargo saw slow growth in the early 2010’s. The global volume of air freight increased a lot in recent years with freight volumes reaching 65.6 million metric tons in 2021.  In 2023, cargo volume is forecasted to reach just 58 million metric tons.

On a positive cargo note, the current numbers for cargo at PTIA are still greater than the pre-pandemic numbers before people started ordering everything online for fear of COVID.

The cargo numbers for August of 2023 were 26 percent higher than in August of 2019.