Analysis of the air cargo transport network using a complex network theory perspective

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In this paper, we present a complex network analysis of the air transport network using the air cargo, instead of the passenger, perspective. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work where a global cargo network comprising passenger airlines, full-cargo airlines, and integrators’ capacity was studied. We used estimated yearly cargo capacity between airport pairs as input to the model. After assessing network characteristics of the sub-networks representing different carrier types, the full network was obtained as a super-imposition of the individual sub-networks. The resulting network has both small-world and scale-free characteristics. Its topological properties resulted in a higher flow imbalance and concentration with respect to its passenger counterpart, with a smaller characteristic path length and diameter. This result is consistent with the larger catchment area of cargo airports, which heavily rely on road feeder services for the ground leg. Finally, we showed how different attack strategies result in hubs of hub-and-spoke systems or airports behaving as bridges between communities being attacked first. We believe this work to be of relevance both for academics and for practitioners in an era where, due to the soaring of e-commerce and next day delivery, new players are entering the air cargo business and competition is constantly increasing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101959
Number of pages21
JournalTransportation Research. Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Air cargo transport network
  • Betweenness centrality
  • Complex network theory
  • Hub-and-spoke
  • Integrators
  • Network nobustness
  • Network topology


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