In the three months to September, inbound cargo volumes for Chinese airlines were also up 17.5 percent from a year earlier, according to IATA.
But Chinese airlines have not made a profit out of all their non-Chinese flying.
Foreign carriers such as Malaysia’s Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines reported big losses for the year ended March, even after two big fuel price rises.
Chinese airlines have also seen profits slashed in the last year amid overcapacity in China’s domestic air market.
China has struck a deal to open up its vast transportation market. The latest free trade agreement between Thailand and the U.S. includes provisions that will let Chinese carriers use Thai airspace to reach Thailand.
Details of the agreement were announced Monday, after a meeting between Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, during the annual East Asia Summit in Thailand.
“This (air services agreement) will open up more opportunities for us. If we need more flights or a carrier, they will provide that service,” Abhisit said.
China already has arrangements with Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Cambodia, according to Reuters. It had open skies agreements with the Philippines and Vietnam but that agreement was suspended as a political dispute simmers in the region.
Air freight in Thailand climbed 7.1 percent to 159,850 tonnes in the first nine months of 2012, according to Bangkok-based IATA. Thailand is the world’s top cargo and logistics hub.
“Our forecast is that in four years, China will have the world’s largest air freight market,” said IATA President and Chief Executive Tony Tyler.
Aircraft cargo service is a hot topic for Thailand. China’s Hong Kong Airlines is offering cargo service to Bangkok, and Hainan Airlines has secured a cargo operation based at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok’s main international airport.
“With the opening of this new service, a major player of the Chinese sector of the world’s air cargo market has officially entered the Thai market,” Abhisit said.
But Thai aviation expert Joseph Hall of the United States-based Air Transport Association of America said the free trade agreement “does not change the rules of the game.”
The cargo agreement is “the easiest way China is going to ship stuff to Thailand,” he said. But he said Thai customs was already applying international rules on goods passing through Thailand, and such imports would not be subject to inspections.
Thai customs authorities have long considered cargo shipments from China and Hong Kong to be legal under existing rules.
Thailand is a busy hub for cargo shipping into and out of Southeast Asia. Bangkok’s main airport was named by the aviation industry watchdog IATA as a “maritime gateway of the year” last year.
Chinese state-owned companies are also entering the international truck and bus transportation market.
Thailand is among several Asian countries pressing for a free trade deal with China. A pact with the European Union is expected to be signed in the next few months, including extending duty-free export licenses for some agricultural and manufacturing goods.