The event focused on unlocking the potential of the Road and Belt Initiative kicked off by the Chinese government in 2013. Other sessions covered E-commerce, innovations in logistics, the
changing role of airports, and the impact of digitalization on the entire freight sector.
Anyone from the global air freight community who missed the Summit which took place in Baku, Azerbaijan from October 8-9, will regret their absence when hearing about the wealth of information delivered at the forum.
The two-day event attracted 270 attendees from practically all over the world. They had flocked to Baku’s impressive Fairmont Flame Towers to get firsthand information from top managers, IATA and TIACA officials, leading airport and airline representatives, GSAs and market experts on latest and future developments in the global air freight industry. Orchestrated under the auspices of the Azeri national cargo carrier Silk Way West Airlines in cooperation with Swedish PR company Euravia International the Summit offered a perfect platform for getting in-depth information on latest cargo trends, discuss upcoming innovations, exchanging views, but even networking and socializing didn’t come up short.
An undisputable highlight after following the sessions of day one was a breathtaking gala dinner at Mangal Steak House, located in the historical district of Baku, where local musicians and belly dancers ignited an emotional and visual firework.
In a nutshell, the summit was a perfect combination of ratio and emotions, bearing in mind that head, heart and belly build an inseparable unity.
Getting back to the main occasion of the Summit, opportunities and challenges the global cargo industry is facing, it was the director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Authority, Arif Mammadov who delivered a positive outlook for his country and the surrounding Central Asian Region. In his welcoming address, the official stated that the Azeri aviation sector delivers a significant and steadily growing contribution to the development of the nation’s traffic sector. “Acting as a bridge between East and West, today Azerbaijan is recognized as a major player in the field of transit transportation,” Mr Mammadov stated.
He went on to say that in the meantime, Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport is growing into a recognized transit hub for air freight. This mainly because 2012 founded freight carrier Silk Way West Airlines has grown into a key player on trade lanes linking Europe and the Far East, including freight transports to Central Asia, Turkey and the Gulf region.
Currently, the airline operates a mixed fleet of Boeing 747-400 and -8F freighters, complemented by a number of Ilyushin 76Fs that are mainly deployed on regional routes covering Central Asia and the Middle East.
Highlighting the Belt and Road project, Silk Way Group president Zaur Akhundov strongly advocated the fast broadening of the project to “unlock the full potential of the initiative,” benefitting particularly the landlocked countries located along the rail tracks and road network, for instance such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. “The project is fully in line with our aim to develop Baku as traffic gateway for east-west, south and north connections, benefitting Baku Airport to become a mega air hub in central Asia,” said Mr Akhundov.
New business avenues
His assessment was strongly supported by Shanghai-based Jenny Zhao, Vice President Asia-Pacific of Silk Way West Airlines. Currently, she said, as many as 126 countries participate in the project, including many European countries but also states in the Middle East and African nations. This, because in addition to the transcontinental Silk Road serviced by airlines, rail or trucks, there is a wide-spread maritime Silk Road of growing importance that includes the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent and parts of Africa. In combination with 5G, the fifth-generation cellular network technology, lifting data exchange to an extremely high level, air and rail transports along the Silk Road will become even more efficient, attracting investments and open up new business avenues particularly for the landlocked Central Asian countries, Mrs Zhao said during her presentation.
The Belt and Road project benefits airports as well
The development she spoke of is already visible at the airports of Baku and Budapest. At the Azeri hub, a Logistics Center comprising 12,000 square meters in combination with an 8,000 m2 terminal for perishables was built. It enables the transfer of temperature sensitive goods from road to air or vice versa within 24 hours in the amount of four fully loaded Boeing 747 freighters, illustrated Samir Shirin, Vice President Indian -Subcontinent, Middle East and Asia of Silk Way West Airlines.
Other airports benefitting from the Belt and Road initiative are Budapest, Frankfurt Hahn and Liege, as well as others, emphasized their executives René Droese (BUD), Anson Fan (HHN), and Steven Verhasselt (LGG) at the Caspian Summit. All major forwarders are already running offices in the vicinity of Budapest Airport, Mr Droese said, with some of them moving into the new cargo terminal that will officially be launched in mid-November. Within the next five years, 5G will be available in Hungary. “We are part of the new Silk Road and developing into the new Eastern European gateway for air cargo,” the manager predicted, pointing at already existing connections between the Far East, Europe and Central Asia serviced by Cargolux and other freight carriers.
Data is the new currency
Hahn Airport’s CEO Anson Fan pointed out that since 15 September, the airport’s latest client SF Airlines started connecting Wuxi Airport in China three times per week with Hahn using HHN as their European gateway.
VP Commercial Steven Verhasselt of Liege Airport spoke of a transition phase LGG is going through, turning from a traditional traffic enabler to a smart data management service provider. Thanks to the data sharing platform BRUCloud, developed by Belgian IT provider Nallian, business cooperation between all cargo airport actors, collectively improving cargo handling and transportation. This allows the transformation of the air freight business model from reactive to proactive, Mr Verhasselt concluded.
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