Leading airfreight operator calls for more from African airports

Sanjeev Gadhia, the founder and chief executive of Astral Aviation, an all-cargo carrier based at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as well as a TIACA director and vice chairman of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Cargo Task Force, has made a plea on behalf of freighter carriers for African airports to improve their cargo-related infrastructure and procedures.
According to Gadhia, the lack of adequate cargo infrastructure at African airports has long been a source of concern.
He believes that only one-third of African airports have sufficient cargo-handling infrastructure to meet the requirements of all-cargo airlines.
Speaking at a conference recently, he observed that the air cargo industry is a catalyst for economic growth and development in Africa, but that high-quality air cargo infrastructure is a pre-requisite for sustained economic growth and competitiveness.
As a result, Gadhia said, investment in existing and new cargo infrastructure should be a “national priority”.
Considering the latter in more depth, he noted that the involvement of the private sector in various concessions and public-private partnerships has resulted in “new and efficient terminals which offer sufficient capacity”; however, he also pointed out that at a number of airports across the continent there exist monopolies on handling services – a situation that results in higher costs. 
As well as the lack of appropriate facilities such as cargo buildings, and staging and storage areas, consultation between stakeholders and clients is lacking and needs to be improved in order to improve co-ordination and efficiency, while airside and landside service roads are often not well maintained, a situation has led to both cargo and ground support equipment (GSE) being damaged, Gadhia noted.
Other noteworthy shortfalls come in the form of the shortage at many gateways of sufficient parking positions for freighters; a lack of designated areas for the storage of GSE; a paucity of customer and employee parking areas landside; and limited or no manoeuvring and docking areas for trucks at airport cargo warehouses.
But Gadhia is by no means without ideas as to how these and other challenges can be met and overcome. He offered the following recommendations to airports operators:

  • ·         Airport Authorities need to constantly monitor their ground services providers (GSPs) to ensure that they only use appropriately qualified and trained personnel, and that they maintain all their GSE in such a way that facilitates safe and efficient operations
  • ·         Security at airports needs to be tightened. Theft of cargo within airports is a major concern and is a problem airside, landside and from warehouses wherever they are located. There is a need to better secure and maintain perimeter fences and access points, while CCTV coverage also needs to be increased to ensure that there are no blind spots. The vetting of airport staff prior to them being given airside access security passes should also be enhanced
  • ·         There is a particular need for improved customs processing in order to improve speeds of cargo clearance and reduce costs. This may include centralised and paper-less procedures for cargo clearance
  • ·         Airport Authorities need to involve cargo carriers and GSPs in any decision-making likely to affect their operations. This is most commonly necessary in cases of closures of airport facilities for maintenance and/or the development of new infrastructure
  • ·         There is a requirement for more specialised air cargo facilities that meet the individual operating needs of carriers, freight forwarders and the cargo industry in general. This would allow for cargo segregation into appropriate categorisations, such as imports, exports, transit, dangerous goods, perishables, express, ecommerce, high value cargo, pharmaceutical products, live animals and so on, thereby encouraging improved airfreight handling
  • ·         Airport Authorities should no longer view  investment impact and operational decisions solely within the confines of the airport boundary. Instead, they will need to consider the air/land/sea interface of cargo operations within an environment of active sharing of information between regional public and private agencies as they relate to services and investment opportunities
  • ·         There should be increased investment in airport infrastructure such as aprons, runways, lighting equipment and accessibility, which would increase efficiency and turnaround times
  • ·         Airport authorities should encourage consolidation of service providers (aircraft and cargo handlers) and limit new concessions where available capacity exceeds demand
  • ·         They should foster a competitive and low-cost model for airport services, though without compromising on efficiency, safety and security
  • ·         Special Economic Zones /Free Zone Enterprises within the existing land area available should be designated, and private sector investment in these areas’ development and management should be encouraged
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