An analysis of the Chinese scheduled freighter network during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic

Yu Deng, Yahua Zhang (Corresponding Author), Kun Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


COVID-19 caused the vast majority of passenger flights to be grounded, but the crisis raised the importance of the network of dedicated cargo flights and, therefore, interest in its development. This paper aims to evaluate the Chinese scheduled freighter network (CSFN) via its topological properties and to explore its changes following the COVID-19 pandemic. Using spatial analysis with the complex network theory (CNT), the paper found that the CSFN displays small-world and scale-free network properties, similar to that of air passenger network. Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Nanjing are the dominant national hubs in the CSFN because they host the headquarters of many e-commerce giant enterprises and have relatively underutilized airport capacities. The CSFN has improved since the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased network average degree, clustering coefficient, and closeness, and reduced average path. These improvements were mainly driven by major hub cities whose centralities had been strengthened with more route connections. Since China's air passenger traffic had quickly restored in the second half of 2020, we argue that the changes in the CSFN during COVID-19 were unlikely to be a result of the substitution effect between freighter and passenger aircraft. It was more likely a result of the higher air cargo demand during the pandemic and airlines' realisation of the importance of freighter operations in China.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103298
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Transport Geography
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cargo carriers
  • China
  • Complex network theory
  • COVID-19
  • Freighter network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Transportation
  • Environmental Science(all)


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