Cargo Infrastructure – No longer the poor relation

The quality of service from cargo handlers is still affected by outdated infrastructure, but is there light at the end of the tunnel? Graham Newton examines the issues involved.

Supporting development
The idea of flexibility is echoed by Adolfo Morales, executive vice president and chief operating officer — North America, Worldwide Flight Services (WFS).

“Change in requirements and circumstance tends to occur faster than the ability to adapt or develop infrastructure,” he says. “While every airport is different, generally speaking, infrastructure will need to adapt in order to meet future handling standards. This is particularly so with regard to cargo security and cargo screening.”

Like Devani, he too sees regulatory input as vital. “The reality is perhaps not if infrastructure is capable of meeting new standards but rather if airport and regulatory authorities will support development of infrastructure to ensure it is capable of meeting standards,” he adds.

The question then is how to get the authorities on board. This may be easier said than done when the constrained facilities that hamper a handler’s service seem to stem from cargo’s second-class status. For too long it has bowed to the demands of passengers services, reduced to picking up what scraps are left at the table.

As Morales points out, from the public’s perspective, cargo remains the poor relation. “This influences the priorities of regulatory agencies and while not minimizing the importance of either service, cargo issues have tended to be dealt with second to passenger services’,” he says.

However, he notes that in the past year, additional efforts have been put into cargo security — a move that “can be seen as better late than never.” He also points out that in 2006, approximately 57 percent of WFS revenue came from cargo terminal services. “Within the air transport industry as well as the ground handling industry, cargo has always been held in high regard due to the revenues it produces,” he comments.

Devani agrees. The industry finally understands the importance of putting cargo back on the front foot. “Look at what the hubs and the investment carriers are putting into their cargo operations,” he says. “Just recently we renewed the wet-lease of our three Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft for an additional five years in a deal with total operating costs of over $1 billion, representing the largest-ever freighter investment by BA.”

Recognition at last
Certainly, air cargo does seem to be earning itself a degree of recognition. For example, the 5,000 hectare Nagpur cargo complex being developed in India is a specialist project designed to support the country’s burgeoning manufacturing base. In conjunction with accessibility to the vast Indian market, the Nagpur Cargo Complex will be equidistant from three major Asian economic blocks — the Middle East, South-East Asia and the newly formed countries of the CIS block.

Elsewhere in the world, the growth of airport cities also offers some respite for space-constrained handlers. Dubai, Frankfurt and Seoul Incheon are just a few examples. Frankfurt has two established cargo sites — CargoCity North and CargoCity South — with a third, Mönchhof Logistics Park, in development. This latter project will be adjacent to the proposed Northwest landing runway.

Meanwhile at Seoul, the airport logispark section is expected to expand by some 500,000m2 in the next few years and other industry-specific sites are also planned.

The industry trend towards full freighters will also play its part in helping handlers supply an efficient service. At the moment some 80 percent of air freight moves through the bellyhold of passenger flights, meaning it goes into congested, passenger-dominated hubs. With more full freighters, dedicated cargo airports and their finely-tuned infrastructure should emerge.

So there is hope for cargo handlers. The infrastructure is arriving and perhaps more importantly — in a world where speed is everything — regulatory authorities are paying heed to cargo’s improving image.

Air freight plays an important role in world economies and handlers need to be released from the shackles. Sluggish growth will no longer be acceptable.

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