Sky's the Limit for Cargo Carriers: Short Term Outlook is Less Clear

Mar. 2--Cargo airlines see a bright future long-term, but their immediate outlook is clouded by new security rules, rising costs for fuel and growing rivalry among carriers, participants at a conference said Wednesday.

Air freight within the Americas also faces special challenges, as manufacturing soars in Asia and Latin America loses ground in the global economy. South Florida is hosting its 8th Air Cargo Americas conference this week to highlight its key role in air freight in the hemisphere. Miami International Airport ranks as the No.1 airport in the United States for international cargo, mainly because of its imports of flowers, fruit and other perishables from Latin America.

The event comes as the air cargo industry soars worldwide, with volumes set to rise by 20 percent a year through 2009, according to consulting firm MergeGlobal of Arlington, Va. Much of the gains come from Asia, especially China and India as those big economies open to investment.

Yet in the Americas, the industry faces uncertainty, especially over U.S. security rules still being drafted. Airline executives say they hope final rules are based on a serious analysis of risk -- and not a bureaucratic vision that could crimp commerce at a high price without improving security.

"If the government works more closely with airlines and shippers, we can develop solutions" that slash risk in a cost-effective way, said Tom O'Malley, vice president of cargo for Latin America for UPS, which runs Latin and Caribbean operations from Miami.

More than 4,000 people from at least 25 countries are expected to attend the air cargo event in Miami that wraps up Friday, including more 150 exhibitors from nations as diverse as Germany, Ethiopia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

The biannual event -- organized by the World Trade Center-Miami and postponed from last fall because of hurricanes -- continues today, with talks on such topics as congestion at key U.S. airports, the impact of China aviation accords on Latin America and new technologies to automate operations.

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