International trade drivers and freight network analysis - The case of the Chinese air cargo sector

Qiang Gong, Kun Wang, Xingli Fan, Xiaowen Fu, Yi bin Xiao

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


This study identifies the key drivers for China's international trade delivered by air with an augmented gravity model, and investigates the country's air freight network using complex network analysis. Gravity model estimation suggests that income elasticity for airborne trade at country level is 1.1, whereas the values for the three major economic zones are significantly higher. More importantly, we found that for China's international trade by air, the composition of economy is a more important driver than the size of economy. These results suggest that the Chinese air cargo sector will outpace the overall economic growth, with leading airports in the economic zones well-positioned to grow into major freight gateways. Air cargo demand in China was not as high as past GDP numbers suggested in the past, but is likely to experience sustained growth in the years to come. Network analysis suggests that cargo traffic volumes are concentrated in the catchments of metropolitan regions, where passenger hubs also serve as air cargo bases. However, domestic air freights currently mainly flow through a relatively small point-to-point network, suggesting that the leading airports are yet to become cargo gateway hubs despite their significant growth potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-262
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Transport Geography
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Air freight network
  • Augmented gravity model
  • Chinese airlines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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