Moving ahead

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Africa’s airports reported a 7.4% year-on-year rise in cargo volumes handled in the first half of this year, according to figures from Airports Council International (ACI) on participating member airports. Comparative figures for airports in the Middle East region showed a 8.6% year-on-year rise. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the mood within air freight handlers operating at airports within these two regions is generally pretty buoyant.

For example, the outlook for business this year at Siginon Aviation – a cargo handler active at the two Kenyan gateways of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Eldoret International – is “generally positive”, according to Moses Wahome, divisional manager. “We have so far been on target,” he says, claiming that the company’s offering to the market has improved this year in the form of better service coupled with greater capacity.

“We have also invested heavily in better service delivery in terms of both hardware equipment and software – people and systems. We continue to equip our staff with better skills to meet the safety and security challenges of the modern aviation industry.”

Key within this has been the handler opening a new airside terminal at JKIA in August last year. “We have seen a spike in demand for our services,” Wahome explains. “Since the opening of the new Siginon Aviation facility, we have had a number of leading global airlines come to view and audit the facility and the people there with a view to start using Siginon Aviation as their cargo terminal of choice in Nairobi.”

There is still plenty of room to handle more cargo at the facility, he notes. “There is also growing demand from fresh produce exporters and forwarders for the use of our airside cold rooms,” Wahome points out. “We have seen an increase in the uptake of perishables services due to our unique cool-chain corridor that maintains the temperatures of perishable cargo up to minutes before loading onto the air craft.”

To support this traffic, plans are being made to extend Siginon’s JKIA offering to include a perishables centre that is dedicated purely to cool-chain cargo handled by Siginon, he confirms.

Handling new business

Another African handler looking to the future and potential new business is Aviance Ghana. Chris Kaighin, its head of airside operations, cargo and security, says that business today is “steady”, although there has been a general drop in import cargo due to the Ghanaian cedi depreciating against foreign currencies. However, exports “are a constant and if anything are benefiting from the cedi’s depreciation”, he adds. Plus, Qatar Airways now operates a freighter four times a week from Accra to Europe, adding further freight traffic through the Ghanian capital’s and the country’s main airport.

Aviance Ghana probably has about 70% of the cargo handling market in Accra, handling imports and exports for carriers such as British Airways, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM and Qatar Airways. The handler benefits, Kaighin notes, from being fully accredited for ACC3, allowing it to handle air cargo moving into the EU area, and having an RA3 accredited export warehouse (RA3: a third country regulated agent, holding an EU aviation security validation), as well as a large import terminal.

Yet it continues to invest for the future. “We are constantly looking at ways to improve our service and facilities, taking into consideration international practices and standards for both handling and security of cargo,” says Kaighin. For example: “We have an ongoing project to replace our existing cold-chain facility for a purpose-built one,” he says.

African potential

The expansion of Siginon facilities in Kenya and new infrastructure for Aviance in Ghana is illustrative of a wider trend of investment in African air freight facilities and other infrastructure, Wahome suggests. “There is an increase in infrastructure development and expansion projects that are ongoing across Africa,” he notes. “These include key facilities such as airports, which are being expanded to meet the current demand.

“As a result, better infrastructure is bound to lower the cost of doing business. There are good indications that air freight costs will go down, largely due to increased competition amongst airlines, which will be attracted to the continent; and more and more turn to Africa for a piece of the pie.

“The cargo market in Africa is on an upward swing,” Wahome enthuses. “The growth is being driven by the emergence of a discerning African middle class that has the income to consume imported commodities in many African countries.”

Other demand for cargo services comes from industrial development on the continent, he adds, pointing to the discovery of commercial oil deposits having given particular impetus to the aviation industry. He adds: “Production of fresh produce (flowers and vegetables) continues to support the aviation industry and there are prospects for growth in the traditional producing countries such as Kenya as well as emerging ones like Ethiopia.”

In Ghana, Kaighin believes that the market has now levelled out somewhat after a period of boom and then slight decline. He adds: “If the cedi manages to stabilise, then the future could be good. I do believe that the potential is still there and can be fulfilled, if the currency issues are resolved and some of the government processes are streamlined and made more user-friendly to encourage imports and exports; some progress has been made in this area, but more still needs to be done.”

Middle East focus

The scope for growth in the African market is increasing being appreciated globally, but is of particular interest to the ambitious Gulf carriers. “Africa has huge potential and remains a big opportunity for air cargo, and Emirates SkyCargo will continue to look to the continent for new opportunities,” remarks Henrik Ambak, senior vice president of cargo operations worldwide for Dubai-based carrier Emirates.

The past year has also been a crucial time, particularly operationally, for the carrier in the development of its Dubai hub air cargo handling infrastructure. “It’s been just over a year now since we started our freighter operations at Emirates SkyCentral, our cargo terminal at Dubai World Central’s (DWC) Al Maktoum International Airport, and we have been very pleased with our operations there, which are now fully integrated into our day-to-day activities,” Ambak says.

He insists Emirates SkyCargo’s challenge of efficiently and seamlessly linking Dubai’s two airports has been successfully addressed. “The trucking operations linking Al Maktoum (now Emirates’ freighter hub) with Dubai International (and Emirates’ passenger services and the cargo in their bellyholds) are running smoothly and efficiently and we have been able to maintain our transhipment times. It’s now well embedded into our systems, processes, and daily operations.”

He says the carrier is able to move cargo between Al Maktoum and Dubai International – between freighters and passenger aircraft – in three hours, thereby maintaining its hub transit times with a more than 97% on-time performance (OTP).

“Our move to Al Maktoum was a strategic one,” he notes. “It provides us with a new state-of-the-art facility, with additional space and capacity, with an option to further expand if required in the future. The location is convenient as many of our customers have also set up or relocated their businesses in the DWC (Dubai World Central) area, creating an integrated cargo hub.”

The freight carrier’s operation at the new gateway is a big one, and it is growing. “Currently, we have the capacity to manage about 700,000 tonnes of cargo per annum through Emirates SkyCentral. We have invested in state-of-the-art technology as well as large areas of cool-chain space, as the movement of time-sensitive and temperature-sensitive products has become a growing and important part of our business and product offering. For now, SkyCentral meets all our needs and requirements, and we can easily add more space and technology as and when required. Our entire fleet of 14 freighters is based at Emirates SkyCentral and it has become firmly established as their base.”

Emirates currently serves 27 points in Africa and 15 in the Middle East, giving the carrier extensive coverage across both of these regions. In Africa, it flies to 22 passenger and five cargo-only destinations, namely Ouagadougou, Lilongwe, Kano, Eldoret and Djibouti. Ambak says there are currently no plans to launch new destinations in Africa or the Middle East, but notes: “However, only last year we launched a daily service to Abuja in Nigeria and increased our frequencies on a number of routes, such as Dar Es Salaam, Johannesburg, Seychelles and Morocco, amongst others; in the Middle East, we also increased frequencies to Doha, Kuwait and Amman, and we’ll soon add a third daily flight to Beirut.”

Dubai: East meets West

Alongside Al Maktoum acting as the cargo carrier’s freighter hub, the emirate’s other huge aviation gateway is also vital. “Dubai International is already the world’s busiest airport, and along with the growth of Emirates and the number of passengers it carries between Dubai and its worldwide network, Emirates SkyCargo has grown alongside it,” Ambak remarks. Emirates’ expansion has turned it into the world’s largest international air cargo carrier by volume, moving well over 2 million tonnes of cargo per annum across a network of more than 140 destinations across six continents.

But the wider region is also benefiting from significant economic growth and ongoing spending on airport facilities. “The Middle East and Africa continue to be good growth regions, driven by high levels of investment in infrastructure and development,” Ambak notes. “Growing economies in both regions are also driving higher levels of consumerism and demand for goods, such as electronics, apparel, food, consumables, etc., which provides good opportunities for air cargo.”

Another success story

Far to the west of the UAE, the Turkish aviation and air cargo markets are also seeing strong growth. So too is its flag-carrier, and many of the airports it serves. “Although there might be ups and downs in the world air cargo market, we are increasing our figures steadily year by year,” says Halit Anlatan, cargo vice president for sales and marketing at Turkish Airlines.

Over the course of 2014, Turkish carried 666,000 tonnes of freight and the target for this year is an impressive 775,000 tonnes, a rise of more than 16%. This includes general cargo, pharmaceuticals, live animals, perishables, dangerous goods, valuables, human remains and mail to and from all parts of the world, Anlatan says.

Key recent investments include a new cargo terminal at its home base at Istanbul Ataturk International that opened last year, with a capacity almost four times greater – as well as more modern – than the old terminal. Accompanying the spending on bricks and mortar has been investment in further improving service levels, including investment in IT – most notably, the COMIS project, which has replaced the carrier’s previous software system known as TACTIC.

Turkish flies to 14 freighter and 84 widebody passenger destinations throughout the Middle East, as well as offering 21 freighter and 35 widebody passenger connections in Africa, plus many more narrow-body passenger destinations across the two regions. “We will keep on expanding in the Middle East, Africa and all over the world, according to our plans and targets,” Anlatan insists. “In some destinations we make our moves to answer new demand, while in some others we create the demand.”