Just when major competitors like Singapore Airlines and China Airlines are sidelining cargo planes in a desperate effort to arrest the decline in yields, Air China Cargo’s freighter fleet is looking to add new routes. The last two of four B747-400BCFs that Cathay Pacific is contributing to the joint venture with Air China are due to join the carrier’s lineup this month, bringing the total to 12 747 freighters. read more
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Activity at Amsterdam Schiphol is already picking up in 2012. Turf for the new 45-acre Schiphol Logistics Park has just been cut, and the airport’s passenger terminals will soon be expanded, which will unfortunately necessitate moving some cargo bases. Finally, the airport’s A4 Zone West project, a 141-acre development, is starting to generate momentum.
“We are looking at something like 2016 to initiate this project, which will be aimed at attracting value-added businesses,” Enno Osinga, the airport’s senior vice president of cargo, said about the Zone West project. “Importantly, this will also provide us with the opportunity to create a dedicated high-speed rail link for cargo.”
The future, it seems, is a bit brighter than the present. Last year, Amsterdam Schiphol saw only a 0.8-percent, year-over-year, growth in cargo. Even though seemingly every other major European airport experienced a flat or declining 2011, Osinga isn’t celebrating Schiphol’s modest accomplishment — he’s looking toward the year ahead.
“It can appear a little crazy at times, when you have to think positive about the future and make critical investment decisions at a time like now, when the market is down,” Osinga said. “It may seem that I am taking my eye off the immediate ball, but I find that my focus is more and more concerned about future cargo activity at Schiphol, rather than what is happening today.”
Schiphol also continues to develop its Smartgate concept to facilitate rapid Customs inspection of goods moving through the airport.
“We have moved on from the initial idea of creating Smartgate as a single Customs inspection area,” Osinga said. “Now we intend to locate satellite inspection areas in the warehouses of all the airport’s designated handlers.”
Typically, a validated truck driver can now have his airport ID card encrypted with all the data related to the cargo he is delivering to an airport warehouse. “As soon as he reaches the security gate, the card can be swiped and the information immediately passed on to the handler to allow them to start processing the shipments even before they have been offloaded from the truck,” says Osinga.
Osinga has also been a valiant champion of e-freight, but he will admit this has come with varied success. “It is vital that e-freight is fully embraced by this industry sooner rather than later,” he said. “We have worked hard as an airport to facilitate its implementation, but ultimately this is an initiative which will have to be taken up by the forwarders and airlines, driven largely by the shipper.”
That does not mean Schiphol has backed out of the e-freight fray. Osinga recently commented that airport officials “still keep coming up with our little bolt-ons and add-ons to help the process.”
More ambitiously, Schiphol is developing a close working relationship with Korea’s Incheon Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport in which the promotion of e-freight is expected to be the main driver. “We are working together with certain carriers to move this particular e-freight initiative forward,” says Osinga. “The ambition is to develop, in effect, a Green Channel between the three gateways.”
All these projects come on the heels of a lackluster 2011. A 10-percent outage in Far East traffic inflicted the most damage in 2011; those routings critically account for 40 percent of traffic flows. But the Dutch gateway also found itself a victim of the vagaries of the freighter business. According to Osinga, Schiphol can now claim credit for the fact that 58 percent of its cargo business moves on freighter services. The number of overall freighter flights grew 2.1 percent last year, with new services added by the likes of Saudia, Etihad and Centurion, plus additional flights by AirBridgeCargo.
“It is perhaps a reflection of what happened in the market, but for the first five months of last year, we were showing good growth; in the last seven months, figures fell away by 7.2 percent,” he said.
Schiphol is now putting the past behind it, embracing the possibilities of future success even as it rides the turbulent seas of the current economy.
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Weakened economies around the world haven’t impaired freight carriers’ Valentine’s Day flower volumes, according to several reports. Numerous airlines have actually experienced a boom in operations and have had to deploy additional aircraft.
IAG Cargo, for instance, transported more than 700 tonnes of Valentine’s flowers on behalf of Iberia Cargo and British Airways World Cargo. Although BA is simply on par to repeat its 2011 Valentine’s performance, Iberia has already seen a 6.7 percent, year-over-year, surge in flora volumes this year.
Most of the flowers transported on Iberia’s flights were grown in Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala and sold to florists in Spain, the Netherlands and the UK, according to a press release. Colombia is by far the top flower exporter, however, with Central American destinations ranking among the main exporters of bouquet foliage. Not surprisingly, roses remain the most-transported flower, followed by carnations.
On the import side, Japan has emerged as a key consumer of Valentine’s flowers. Carmen Taylor, managing director of sales for American Airlines Cargo’s Latin American sector, said AA’s Bogota-Narita trade lane, which was launched in 2011, has been inundated with flower traffic this year.
“[Despite the recession], we’ve actually seen an increase of luxurious products on flights,” Taylor said. “I guess flowers are something that is still key in people’s lives.”
Flowers also have unique cold-chain requirements, which is one of the reasons why AA Cargo is launching a perishables facility at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in the second quarter of 2012. Taylor said the carrier established a similar facility at Miami International Airport in October 2006. And although both facilities are located in the U.S, Taylor said America is not AA Cargo’s top concern. “Most of our focus is on flowers beyond our U.S. gateways,” she said.
Unfortunately, Taylor added, the European market has been slightly disappointing in terms of flower demand. Spain has been especially weak. “Spain is going through a recession like a few other countries in Europe, so we’ve seen less flowers going to Spain,” she said. Taylor admits that AA Cargo has also witnessed lower demand among some nations, particularly European ones, for foreign-grown flowers.
Lufthansa Cargo has reported strong Valentine’s Day flower volumes on its routes from South America and Africa to Frankfurt. In fact, the German freight carrier said flew 1,100 tonnes of flowers to its Frankfurt Airport hub in preparation for Valentine’s Day 2012. This volume, which is equivalent to 13 full MD-11 freighters, is consistent with 2011 levels, Lufthansa Cargo’s Michael Göntgens said.
Valentine’s Day 2010 was a different story, he said. Weakened markets resulting from the global recession led to 30-percent to 40-percent lower flower volumes in 2010 than in 2011. 2010 also presented challenges to FedEx, a spokeswoman for the logistics provider said. Since Valentine’s Day 2010 fell on a Sunday, FedEx partnered with ProFlowers to coordinate overnight deliveries.
Even though Valentine’s Day 2012 occured on a Tuesday, the FedEx spokeswoman said this year has been just as taxing for FedEx. “The weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day continue to remain some of the busiest of the year for FedEx,” she said. “The number of Valentine’s Day deliveries from e-commerce florists and retailers continues to grow each year. And due to the perishable nature of flowers, airfreight is often the preferred mode for flower transportation.”
Increasing demand for flower transportation is also why Tampa Cargo tasked the now-insolvent World Airways with providing charter flights in late January and early February. According to a press release, World Airways flew hundreds of tonnes of flowers from Latin America to North America on Boeing 747-400 freighters on behalf of Tampa Cargo to meet the Valentine’s Day rush.