Canada: Airports, carriers plan for future activity
Recent movements at Canadian airports to boost their cargo capabilities suggest that the country is a hotbed of air cargo growth.
Workers at Edmonton International Airport began construction in April on a 50,000-square-foot, multitenant cargo terminal, which is scheduled to open next February. As the chief gateway to the Canadian oil sands deposits in Alberta, Edmonton looks poised to enjoy strong growth; rising fuel prices have revived activity in this sector.
“The oil sands are a booming market. Some forwarders choose to put operations there; others choose to drive the cargo two hours to Calgary,” remarks Donna Letterio, managing director for Canada at DHL Global Forwarding. “As the oil sands business continues to develop, I can see Edmonton growing. But until you have widebody lift there, Calgary will dominate this market.”
Edmonton has positioned itself as part of a multimodal gateway concept for Asian cargo in cooperation with the container port of Prince Rupert. In this area, it now faces competition from Prince George airport.
Having extended its runway to 11,450 feet (the third longest in Canada), the Prince George airport authority is now building a 25,000-square-foot, cross-dock building and a large fuel-storage facility. Its objective is to attract freighters en route to or from Asia; the planes would refuel in Canada and load additional cargo.
“Prince George has the closest runway to Asia that can connect to the road and rail system. We can bring in beef from Alberta, [and] seafood and fruit from British Columbia. This is not going to be a major hub, but it can attract some Asian carriers,” says Al Ridgway, the airport’s director of cargo business development.
At the opposite end of the country, Halifax International Airport intends to lengthen its runway to 10,500 feet to accommodate widebody freighters. The airport authority expects cargo to grow between 85 percent and 130 percent during the next 10 years.
Toronto Pearson International Airport, Canada’s premier gateway, attracted a slew of freighter operators during the 2009 downturn, including Lufthansa, Cargolux, Cargoitalia and Lot Polish Airlines. Several of these have since moved elsewhere, but some have remained in place. Last year, Toronto’s maindeck cargo growth was relatively flat, whereas bellyhold traffic went up 24 percent.
Freighter traffic this year has been up 6 percent, while belly cargo growth is in the lower double-digit range, reports John Sharp, the airport’s general manager of air service development. Sharp sees scope for some additional freighter activities — first and foremost to Shanghai.
Nearby Hamilton, which has mainly figured as a hub for overnight express traffic, aims to build on its momentum from 2010; the airport experienced a 14 percent increase in cargo flights last year. Projecting volumes to exceed 500,000 tonnes by 2020, the airport is planning a 60,000-square-foot, multitenant cargo facility.
Some forwarders have misgivings about the airport’s potential, though. “Hamilton works well for charters and express cargo, but forwarders don’t see Hamilton as an alternative (to Toronto) unless you get scheduled airlines there, and I don’t see airlines in a position to support two airports,” Letterio said.
The market is not exactly in line with some of the loftier ambitions among Canadian airport operators. Above all, inbound volumes from China have lagged behind expectations, remarked Brian Pedersen, vice president for airfreight at Kuehne + Nagel. This has not deterred China Southern Airlines from fielding a considerable amount of new capacity in the Vancouver market. In July, the Chinese carrier launched three weekly passenger flights and a twice-weekly all-cargo service with B777F equipment.
“There is not a lot of capacity across the Pacific out of Vancouver, but if you throw in a freighter, that’s a different equation,” Pedersen says.