Are Cargo Airports Geared Up For E-Commerce?

When looking at the global passenger air transport picture of the past decade, it is easy to see how many airports have adapted to the huge demand in air travel.
Over a ten year period from 2006 to 2016, the leading 100 airports have gone up from 2.8 billion passengers annually to just over 4 billion.
To cope, many have adapted their present facilities in a way that allows for smooth handling.
Is this the case with the cargo airports?

The e-commerce train is firmly on the tracks 
A half a century ago, air cargo handling was almost unknown. A little belly cargo in the then narrow body passenger aircraft along with a few enterprising cargo carriers still operating DC-6, CL-44 and DC-7 spymaster freighters on basically ad-hoc services.
Certainly nothing like we see it today.

Things have changed for the better and the air cargo boom, despite the downturn towards the end of the last decade continues its upward trend.
Admittedly, as far as general cargo is concerned, not as strong as many would want and definitely a problem child with regards to yields and revenues for airlines.

But, there’s e-commerce - right?
Ask 100 air freight specialists about e-commerce and we bet that still many have not cottoned onto what a potential lies before the door.
Are the world’s main airports geared towards this unstoppable boom - or will other secondary airports become the winners in the end?

The world’s cargo airports handled a total of 106 million tonnes during 2016. This is an increase of 3.3% compared to the year before.
The airport ranking for cargo volume remained almost the same as the years before. One exception being Doha which moved up to the 16th place by generating 20% more than in 2015. 
There are of course many so-called e-commerce shipments included in these statistics; but compared to general cargo handled, these are still very low volumes.

Considering that e-commerce is expected to grow by between 10% to 15% per annum during the next decade, one has to wonder whether most of the present airports will be in a position to effectively handle and distribute this upcoming volume.

Secondary airports might secure themselves a larger slice of the cake
Or - is this a real chance for some of the world’s main secondary airports to be able to take advantage.
E-commerce trade requires speed and reliability and for this airports must be geared towards seamless and non-obstructive customs facilities as well as very, very fast loading, unloading and transfer to the end-customer.
Are then many of today’s main airports not pre-destined for this traffic?
Bogged down with having many carriers to deal with along with own regulatory drawbacks and often now a lack of space and the proper facilities, this may well be their biggest problem.

On the other hand, Europe for example has many well-functioning secondary airports which have (or will have) the infrastructure on airport and outside, in order to offer themselves as suitable candidates.
Names such as London Stansted, Liege, Cologne-Bonn - along with others, may spring to mind.

Some of these are already moving their product offering in the direction of e.commerce suitability.

John Mc Donagh

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