Unstoppable momentum

posted on 4th April 2018

While these remain difficult times for the air cargo industry in spite of improvements in the last 12 months, the Africa and Middle East markets have certainly fared better than some. In the first half of 2014, for example, Middle Eastern carriers reported 10% year-on-year growth in flown tonne kilometres, according to IATA figures, well ahead of global average growth of around 4%. And the region’s airlines are the only carriers to have consistently continued to grow throughout the difficult post-2008 period, with Emirates rising during this period to become the world’s biggest international air freight carrier, in scheduled international freight tonne kilometre terms.

And meanwhile, airports, airlines and handlers in the region continue to invest in and develop their cargo operations. Emirates SkyCargo is amongst them, the freight wing of Dubai-based Emirates having officially transferred its freighter hub operations from Dubai International Airport to the all-new Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC) on 1 May.

“Overall, we are satisfied with the way the move of our freighter operations to the new cargo terminal at Dubai World Central’s Al Maktoum International Airport has gone,” reports Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president, cargo. “Several weeks before the official move of our freighters, we tested the facilities and movement of cargo between the two airports, as well as communicated with our customers to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. As one can expect with a major move to a new facility, there will inevitably be some initial teething problems. However, it has now been nearly three months since the start of operations, the connections are quite good and we are pleased with the way things are going.”

With Emirates’ bellyhold cargo flying through Dubai International Airport and maindeck freighter cargo coming into and flying out of Al Maktoum, there was certainly a potential problem to be overcome. However, Sultan explains: “We have a five-year trucking contract in place with a Dubai-based land transportation service provider. Currently, 47 trucks are being used to transfer cargo between the two airports 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” That fleet of trucks includes roller-bed trailers, reefer trailers, low-bed trailers and an aircraft engine carrier. Road feeder services are also provided from DWC to all other airports in the UAE, including Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, plus the Jebel Ali Free Zone.

Further development work at Al Maktoum is ongoing. SkyCargo is currently expanding its cargo handling facilities at Dubai International Airport in a process that should be completed by May next year. The expansion includes the refurbishment of facilities and equipment at an existing cargo building as well as the extension of Emirates SkyCargo’s Cargo Mega Terminal. Phase two development of the DWC freighter terminal is currently also underway and should be completed towards the end of this year.

HIA opens for business

The recent opening of another new airport in the region, Hamad International Airport (HIA) in the Qatari capital of Doha, will also have a significant effect on the Middle Eastern cargo business.

HIA is home to the nation’s flag-carrier, Qatar Airways, and for its freight arm the move to the new hub represents a massive opportunity. According to Ulrich Ogiermann, chief officer cargo at Qatar Airways Cargo: “The transition to HIA from Doha International Airport (DIA) was a huge and successful undertaking that began when cargo operations first commenced at HIA on 1 December 2013. Full operations then transferred from DIA on 27 May this year, a move which was meticulously planned and undertaken, and made seamless through the diligence and hard work of our team of experts.”

As for the freight handling capacity at the new gateway, the 55,000 square metre warehouse can handle 1.4 million tonnes of cargo per year. Ogiermann explains: “It was no small feat moving operations to the new two-floor cargo facility, but we are extremely pleased with the results.” HIA’s freight terminal, which he describes as “one of the most sophisticated cargo terminals in the industry”, incorporates warehouse space, automated storage and retrieval systems, a mezzanine and offices. Also available is advanced scanning technology “to ensure the complete safety and security of the facility, its staff and cargo”.

On site are 11 wide-body aircraft standing bays and 42 loading docks. There are also 31 landside truck-loading facilities. The new facility is designed to sustain future growth and there are also ambitious plans to increase overall cargo capacity by up to 75%. Upon completion of a second terminal, HIA will have the capacity for processing up to 2.5 million tonnes of cargo per year, making it one of the largest cargo airports in the world.

Qatar Aviation Services (QAS) provides cargo handling and operational services for Qatar Airways Cargo and other airlines at HIA. A wholly owned subsidiary of Qatar Airways, it is the sole ground handling agent at the airport and is therefore responsible for all passenger, aircraft and cargo handling.

BIA on path to recovery

While Al Maktoum and HIA represent huge new Middle Eastern cargo hubs, plenty of the older, smaller gateways continue to invest in their logistics operations. Bahrain International Airport (BIA) is among them. There are now 15 airlines with freighter services operating out of BIA’s 25,000 square metre cargo terminal, Turkish carrier MNG having just started flying on a wet-lease basis into BIA this summer on behalf of DHL. “However,” says BIA’s manager for cargo, Robert Mills, “we would like to make this a more permanent home for MNG going forward.”

Such a move would fit well with the gateway’s well-publicised Airport Modernization Programme (AMP). “Cargo and logistics infrastructure is definitely being scoped out for further investment,” Mills confirms. He believes that BIA’s handling, clearance and export/import of cargo is unmatched anywhere in the region, “both on cost and service levels”. Currently, 99% of all cargo is cleared within 24 hours of arrival at the cargo terminal, Mills insists, although ongoing improvements to increase handling and clearance performance continue to remain of “paramount importance”.

A same-day transit (airport-to-airport) road service from BIA to the Saudi gateway of Dammam is also currently undergoing trials, he points out, adding: “This will have a huge and positive impact for both BIA and DMM airports.”

Exploiting Africa’s potential

Meanwhile, in Africa, there have also been numerous significant developments in the continent’s air cargo sector. Earlier this summer, globally active cargo handler Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) inked a partnership agreement with Transglobal Cargo Centre in Kenya that saw it take over the full management, operation and business development of Transglobal’s fresh produce and general cargo terminal at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), east Africa’s biggest cargo airport.

According to Barry Nassberg, group chief operating officer at WFS, Kenya has been viewed for many years as a market in which its Africa Flight Services (AFS) brand should extend its presence. And the potential for the Transglobal partnership is huge, he suggests. Transglobal had had the foresight to invest in the new Cargo Centre, which opened in 2007 and which incorporates state-of-the-art facilities, but it lacks the global network and carrier contacts of the world’s biggest cargo handler, Nassberg argues. As a result, it has been severely under-utilised, although it numbers the likes of Emirates SkyCargo and Lufthansa Cargo amongst its freight carrier customers. Exploiting its potential “is where we come in”, he says.

The initial intention is “to fill that building”, while further development at JKIA will see the ground handling licence already held by Transglobal – and now collectively held with WFS – gainfully employed. Nassberg expects to have a ramp handling business, including freighter ground handling, in operation at the gateway later this year.

AFS also has a strong footprint in South Africa, at Johannesburg and Cape Town, at whose airports it has maintained a cargo operation for over a year now. The intention is to build volumes through both these stations, although AFS isn’t seeking “volume for the sake of volume” and will only work with cargo carriers prepared to pay for “a premium service”.

AFS’s cargo handling business in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, will also receive a boost with the opening of a brand new warehouse facility “just weeks away”, while Nassberg confirms that WFS’s eyes are looking further afield too, towards expanding the handler’s footprint further into West Africa and very probably in East Africa. He expects WFS will be able to announce a plan to open new stations in at least two more African gateways before the end of 2014.

Lagos validation

In May this year, Nigerian cargo handler Nahco Aviance received the EU’s Third-Country Regulated Agent (RA3) certification, confirmation that it has been validated and approved by the EU as meeting its required aviation security standards. It is the first Nigeria-based handler to be so approved.

Nahco Aviance’s shipments can as a result be directly accepted into all EU countries and, the handler believes, the validation further gives client airlines full confidence in the company’s competences, security management processes and safety.

Seyi Adewale, senior manager at the Learning & Development Centre training arm of Nahco, comments: “Nahco Aviance has further proven through this validation that we are an international company, operating best practices with security and safety standards comparable with developed countries. Also, our proven leadership and pace-setting roles in West Africa (are) not in doubt, suggesting Nahco as the potential regional base or hub for all air cargo and air mail shipments to the rest of West Africa.

“We encourage interested African airlines and independent cargo airlines or freight forwarders to use this platform for their possible entrant into EU markets. Nahco would partner them,” Adewale promises.

In a further improvement to its offering, Nahco Aviance launched a full 24-hour cargo clearance service in July. Initially scheduled to have started on 1 January this year, the launch was delayed until the handler had received approval from the Nigerian Customs Service.

Nahco Aviance has also been granted a Free Trading Zone (FTZ) licence by the Federal Government of Nigeria and the cargo services aspect of the company’s operations is being adapted in order to maximise the benefits that are expected to arise as a result.

The FTZ, which will be operational within the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, will afford the company the opportunity to import goods in “a borderless environment”. Moreover: “It will also improve our shipment capacity and capabilities and give Nahco Aviance a unique platform to service value-added aviation-related businesses,” the handler states.

“This will enhance significantly air traffic into the country, and it will bring increased cargo volumes. We also believe that, when the FTZ comes into full operation, some of the exports that Nigeria loses to neighbouring countries will revert to us.”

In Lagos, Nahco Aviance maintains the biggest warehouse in sub-Saharan Africa, the facility having the capacity to handle 230,000 tonnes of import and 60,000 tonnes of export cargo a year.

Terminal investment in East Africa

Another African handler has also not been afraid to expand its operations. Siginon Group – an East African logistics services provider offering transport, customs clearance, warehousing and handling – has spent heavily on a new cargo terminal opening for business in July.

Siginon already has two air cargo terminals in operation, one landside on the second row at JKIA in Nairobi and one airside at Eldoret International, an airport in the west of Kenya. It handles such cargo carriers as Cargolux, Singapore Airlines, Safari Express, Magma Aviation, Afrika Express and Juba Airways in Nairobi, while the cargo of both Etihad and Emirates is being handled by Siginon in Eldoret.

Work began in 2011 on Siginon’s latest cargo terminal, its second – this one airside – at JKIA. The group is spending over US$10 million on the facility, which will incorporate import and export warehouses, perishables (cold rooms and freezers) and valuable cargo (strong room/vault) handling capability, CCTV and access control, as well as offering dangerous goods inspection and basement storage for bonded vehicles.

The terminal will cover 5,000 square metres and is expected to be able to handle up to 60,000 tonnes of freight a year. The new facility will further improve what Siginon Aviation project manager Moses Wahome describes as the company’s “world-class” cargo ground handling service offering in East Africa.”

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On the up

Not far from the massive changes taking place in Dubai, another UAE gateway – Fujairah International Airport (FIA) – has been working hard to improve its cargo fortunes. As a result of a decline in its freight business of about 50% over the course of the past two years, FIA has initiated a strategy designed to recover this lost traffic. Key to this programme has been the change in the access restrictions associated with the airport’s main cargo gate, Gate 9.

All cargo-related vehicles are now permitted to enter through Gate 9, as the landside area adjacent to the cargo warehouse is now de-restricted, thanks to Airport Police security improvements and revised procedures having been implemented. According to FIA: “Thanks to the active co-operation of the facilitation services and in particular the Airport Police, the cargo warehouse and access to aircraft for cargo is now much easier for our cargo customers, whilst we have maintained UAE security requirements.”

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Dube TradePort begins RFID trial

According to Dube TradePort, the airport logistics hub and operator of Dube Cargo Terminal at the new King Shaka International Airport outside Durban, it has an enviable record of 0% loss of cargo since it began operating in 2010 – and it is aiming to build on this unsullied performance by implementing a new ultra-high-frequency radio frequency identification (UHF RFID) freight tracking system.

Cargo will be tagged as it enters the Dube terminal at King Shaka, and will then be traceable throughout the facility. Once RFID tracking is employed, in conjunction with Dube TradePort’s already operational CHAMP Cargosystems Cargospot freight management system, the handler will wield the technology to allow fully integrated, real-time physical handling, documentation and messaging.

Petko Atanassov, senior manager for cargo development, operations and security, observes: “From a Dube Cargo Terminal perspective, it provides a solid backbone for the integrated tracking of cargo from departure to delivery for the airlines and freight forwarders.”

Dube TradePort is investing 5.4 million rand (US$500,000) in the RFID project, and the system – on which work began last year – is expected to go live before the end of this financial year.