Are the Big Airports Geared for E-Commerce?

Generally not, would probably be an honest answer from most. This would surely apply more to airports in Europe and North America, than those situated in the Far East.
Everyone knows how to spell‚ ‘e-commerce,’ - but how many are really geared up to what’s ahead?

The volumes ‘they are a-changin’ – as seen here in Amazon’s fulfillment center  -  company courtesy
The volumes ‘they are a-changin’ – as seen here in Amazon’s fulfillment center - company courtesy

Many cargo airport are doing a good job
Air cargo has come a long way since the late sixties and early seventies where working in the cargo department of airlines was considered by many as having a ‘second-rate job.’ But then things started to move forward when the first jet freighters were introduced by carriers such as Trans Mediterranean Airways (TMA), Cargolux, Martinair and Lufthansa Cargo forerunner, German Cargo Services (GCS).
This new air cargo development forced many of the world’s main airports to take a closer look at their cargo handling facilities and invest heavily in many cases in updating or erecting new cargo handling areas.
In the meantime air cargo has become a household word and with the introduction of the now many numerous hi-tech products; something one cannot do without.

“The times they are a-changin”
Bob Dylan’s words shown above in his famous song referred to the world’s political shifting pattern.
This has not been different as far as air cargo transport is concerned. The industry is presently fighting to ensure that paperless air waybills and full digitalisation becomes the done thing in the future. But - the so called e-commerce boom has presented the airlines, handlers and the airports with a new and demanding challenge.
Are airports ready for the upcoming avalanche of e-commerce shipments, most of which are just a few kilos in weight and small in size?
The simple answer is no - they are not. At least most of them. Integrators with their own handling centres such as FedEx and Memphis are way ahead. But, it cannot be expected that just today’s integrators can handle the ever increasing volume. China’s regional governments, with Beijing’s blessing, are handling the situation differently by just planning and erecting their own Memphis style all cargo airports. This is apparent for example in Wuhan and Xi’an.

But what about the rest of the world?
Fact is that e-Commerce has definitely helped the major airports to increase their volume turnover during 2017. But are they all geared towards an 8% - 10% annual increase? Airports tend to be of a stodgy nature as far as flexibility is concerned. This is especially apparent with customs procedures which are already seen to be far too slow in order to be a valuable part of the e-commerce speedy supply chain. Another important aspect is that airports need a future infrastructure which can cope for fast loading, offloading and distribution of smaller and fast cargo. Today’s airports were basically conceived to handle so called general cargo which could in the early days afford to stay in warehouses for days before being picked up and only during the past few years has this been changed to same day pickup. It is of paramount importance that e-commerce shipments have to move in and out in one motion, no waiting times, no backlogs and no unnecessary customs procedures. Many are convinced that most of the airports are not geared towards this and don’t anyhow have the space on hand to accommodate e-commerce.

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Secondary airports to the front?
China might be a good example for Europe and North America. The Chinese have more to spend on airport infrastructure expansion and don’t have any of the political or regulatory hang-ups that Europe has in getting things signed-off.
There are quite a few so-called secondary airports on both continents which may well be ideal to be developed as pure e-commerce airports. Most of these are fighting to keep their heads above water, are often strategically quite well situated, but lack the necessary funds to go the last mile. Some in Germany and Belgium for example are taking the e-Commerce future seriously and are looking for management know-how to try and guide them through future e-commerce operations.
Not an easy job - however something has to happen fast, otherwise European and North American consignees and shippers will be facing a constant backlog - end of e-commerce!

John Mc Donagh

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