Putzger Perspective: Cargo airports staying the course
04 / 11 / 2022
By Ian Putzger
Recently released statistics of US airports from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) show that another cargo airport has broken into the top 20 tier of airports in terms of cargo volume.
A 45.75% surge propelled Fort Worth Alliance airport (AFW) up three spots in the rankings.
Not surprisingly, e-commerce was a major engine for AFW, with Amazon and FedEx the primary drivers, but smart investment in the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone has attracted global logistics as well as aviation companies to the airport.
Airports that focus primarily or exclusively on cargo have enjoyed a tremendous turn of fortune over the past couple of years.
Now, as the industry’s momentum is flagging, questions arise whether or not they can maintain altitude.
If airfreight were to revert to pre-pandemic patterns, the case for costly freighter flights to alternative gateways would be seriously undermined again.
It is unlikely, though, that cargo airports could sink back into the marginalised existence of yesteryear – for several reasons.
To begin with, large forwarders have still added new dedicated freighter flights recently.
That momentum will undoubtedly slow, but some forwarders have been vocal about an ongoing need for controlled lift, stressing that major customers are calling for that level of certainty.
Ocean volumes have come down dramatically recently – especially in the transpacific trade lane, but this has not removed congestion in intermodal supply chains, with cargo still clogged up at ports and rail terminals.
The supply chain disruptions of the past two years have given beneficial cargo owners an acute sense of the importance of reliability and flexibility, and airfreight plays an important role in that equation.
While cost is in their crosshairs, shippers are not going back to the old just-in-time, as-cheap-as-possible mode.
In the US ad hoc trucking rates have fallen about 30% this year, but shippers are largely adhering to contracts to be able to cope with disruptions down the road.
Moreover, e-commerce remains a key driver for airfreight demand, despite a slowdown in growth. Much of this traffic is better served by cargo airports.
Finally, passenger hubs are constrained, with serious question marks over a number of them for their future ability to meet airfreight growth.
This does not mean that cargo airports can go forward on autopilot. They need to invest to raise their game, especially with regard to digitisation.
Establishing digital corridors will be an important element in this.