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Geography, infrastructure propel Atlanta cargo

By Hpanchal on September 26, 2012

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has long been heralded for its passenger operations. As the world’s busiest passenger airport — a title Hartsfield-Jackson has held for 13 consecutive years — Atlanta airport welcomes travelers from all corners of the world. And if Hartsfield-Jackson’s aviation development manager Warren Jones has it his way, this dominance will one day apply to the airport’s cargo operations, as well.

Although Hartsfield-Jackson certainly has a long way to go before it achieves such accolades in the airfreight arena — out of the top 50 cargo airports on the Airports Council International’s 2012 ranking, Atlanta finished 33rd, with 663,162 tonnes in 2011  — Jones thinks the tides are changing. “If you look at the past history of Hartsfield-Jackson, in 2010, we saw 17-percent growth; in 2011, we saw 2-percent growth,” Jones says. “But in 2011, a lot of the other major U.S. gateways had declined in cargo volumes overall.”

Hartsfield-Jackson also saw the introduction of Qatar Airways’ freight service to Atlanta in 2011. The twice-weekly Boeing 777F flights, which commenced in November, highlight Atlanta’s position as a key exporter to the Middle East, the airport’s Louis Miller asserts. “Companies can readily connect with air, road and railway transportation systems in Atlanta,” Miller said last fall. “The addition of Qatar Airways further enhance[s] our airport’s reputation as a leading cargo airport.”

Jones says the March recommencement of Air France-KLM Cargo and Martinair Cargo’s service to Atlanta backs up his colleague’s assessment. After a three-year flying hiatus, customer demand drove the combined carrier to resume flights to Hartsfield-Jackson, Air France-KLM Cargo and Martinair Cargo’s Harm Winkeler reveals. The need for automotive parts transportation out of Atlanta topped the list of most-requested services.

Global automakers Hyundai, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes all fly their car parts through Hartsfield-Jackson on a daily basis, Jones points out, and Kia recently expanded its 2,200-acre manufacturing facility in nearby West Point, Ga., to increase its vehicle production rate. In fact, Jones says, Kia set up shop in the tiny Georgia town in 2010 to take advantage of Hartsfield- Jackson’s cargo connectivity.

It appears that luxury brand Porsche is following Kia’s lead. Industry rumblings suggest that nonstop flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Porsche’s Stuttgart, Germany, headquarters led Porsche officials to purchase 33 acres of land, with an option for 20 more, adjacent to the airport.

Porsche’s new facility, which is slated to open in late 2013, replaces the automaker’s current North American headquarters. The $100 million development was announced in 2011 and will help establish the Aerotropolis mixed-use concept, which is located on a former Ford Motor Co. plant. Bob Pertierra, vice president of supply-chain development at Metro Atlanta Chamber, isn’t surprised by this move. Calling Hartsfield-Jackson the Southeastern U.S.’ “largest economic engine,” he says proximity to the airport is often a key determinant when companies are selecting a location.

Pertierra reveals that he regularly attends meetings where Hartsfield-Jackson representatives tell companies eying the Atlanta market about their flight schedules and frequencies. Officials use the airport to lure companies into thinking about Atlanta. “So it’s very much a part of how companies pick their locations,” he says.

After all, Pertierra says, “The airport gives us access to global markets, both for cargo and people — and companies want to be near to that, and they often request and compare Atlanta’s airport with other cities’ airports to see what’s best for their business.”

The other factor that companies consider, he says, is whether a prospective market is growing. And in the U.S., the Atlanta market certainly is, Pertierra asserts. “So we point out the fact [to companies] that the population demographic for the Southeast U.S. is growing — it’s adding people — whereas the Northeast U.S. and West are losing people,” he says.

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