By Adina Solomon
When an airport in the oil-rich province of Alberta, Canada, wanted to improve its cargo operations, it turned to the freight community.
So far, Edmonton International Airport has invested CA$35 million (US$33.8 million) in enhancing its cargo side, including building the Cargo Village. The Cargo Village includes places for Customs, freight forwarders, air carriers, logistics and warehousing – and it already has buildings running at full capacity.
“Our reason for being is to serve as a catalyst for the economic prosperity of the region we’re responsible for,” Norm Richard, director of air service development at the airport, says.
That’s why when the airport wanted to know what exporting challenges Alberta faces, it went to the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.
The airport also did a series of focus groups with about 100 executives from Alberta’s exporting community.
“It was very clear from the exporting and shipping community of Alberta, particularly in central and northern Alberta, that improvements in air cargo capacity out of the Edmonton International Airport was seen to be a critical component of their growth,” Richard says. “So for us, it’s about facilitating what needs to be done in terms of what we call the demand side – which is in fact the manufacturers and exporters – with the supply side, which is of course the air carriers and other intermodal carriers handling cargo.”
Though Edmonton Airport is in the early stages of cargo development, it is already reaping the benefits of its expansion. The airport has had three years of consecutive growth in cargo. From January to August, the airport’s cargo has grown by 6 percent. Edmonton Airport ships 40,000 tonnes annually.
The investment in the airport is expected to continue annually until 2020, Richard says.
“On it’s own, it’s not one of the leading airports in terms of volumes in the country by any stretch, but where we are positioned and what we are targeting towards is consistent growth from here right through to 2020,” he says. “It’s something we work very hard on, but in honesty, it’s coming as a result of the work that we’re doing with our community, the cargo community.”
The airport is getting in the game by partnering with CIFFA for the first national intermodal cargo conference in Canada. The Roads, Rails and Runways Conference takes place Sept. 25-26 in Edmonton.
The Cargo Village is continuing to attract tenants. Purolator Courier, a Canadian courier, has doubled its operational capabilities in terms of square footage and has moved from an older section of the airport into the Cargo Village. Cargojet Airways and DHL also increased their operations and set up shop in the Cargo Village.
FedEx expanded its wide-body services in January.
Three more buildings at the village are being built this year. One of these buildings, which the airport broke ground on in August, is for freight forwarders and brokers. That building will be up and running by the first or second quarter of 2014.
Western Canada has a strong oil and gas sector, and Edmonton Airport is near the Nisku Business Park, the largest energy park in Canada, yet the province offers more.
“If Alberta’s known for one thing, it tends to be the energy sector, which really is one of the drivers and is a cornerstone of the foundation of the economic performance of the province,” Richard says.
But now other sectors such as food, high-tech, construction and engineering are growing.
“The economy is increasingly diversified, and it is the objective of the government to be continuing to be supporting any type of diversification and strengthen the Alberta economy,” he says.
Richard seems aware of the challenges facing Edmonton Airport’s cargo goals. First, he notes, most people don’t think of Edmonton Airport out of all the Canadian airports for their freight needs. The navigational fees for flying into Canadian aerospace also aren’t as competitive as other countries.
The billions of dollars China has invested in Alberta in the last few years also present a problem. With the increased Asian trade and cargo traffic, Alberta’s supply chains have not yet caught up with such a high level of investment, Richard explains.
He says the airport can meet these challenges by staying focused on developing in the long-term and continuing its conversation with Canada’s freight community.
“The idea of one airport such as Edmonton International Airport adjusting itself or realigning itself to prioritize cargo was welcomed not just in terms of a new membership potential for them,” Richard says, “but also that there would be concrete initiatives that we could partner on.”