Airport construction offers hope for far-reaching growth

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When airports build new cargo infrastructure, they deal in more than concrete and bricks. Airports can spur progress in other realms.

“Airports and airfreight are vital to a region’s economy,” says Gian Carlo Alessi, head of the cargo department at EuroAirport Basel–Mulhouse–Freiburg.

EuroAirport, which is located in France near the Swiss and German borders, will finish building its new cargo terminal by November. The terminal is scheduled to enter service in the beginning of 2015.

EuroAirport is constructing this terminal for two reasons.

“On the one hand, our current cargo facility no longer meets the requirements of the industry, which needs temperature-controlled infrastructure,” Alessi says. “On the other hand, we see customer demand and need to develop the cargo business to deal with the expected future growth in volume of goods produced in our region.”
Aging infrastructure is often the catalyst for construction.

San Francisco International Airport is building a West Cargo Facility to replace its one dating from 1965. The new building, which was completed in mid-September, is part of a 10-year capital improvement plan to upgrade some of SFO’s facilities. The West Cargo Facility has the flexibility to expand warehouse space, based on tenants’ needs.

Gary McCarthy, project engineer for the West Cargo Facility, says SFO is not a freight-focused airport. It has a small DHL operation and belly cargo offerings from Korean Air and United.

“We just really want to make sure that from a cargo standpoint, we have adequate facilities to support that piece of the business,” McCarthy says.

Hamburg Airport is also replacing its cargo center from the 1960s with a modern version. It will finish the building at the end of 2015 and will open it for operation by early 2016, Lutz Deubel, commercial director for Hamburg Airport, says.

The cargo center, which has an annual capacity of around 150,000 tonnes, is almost the same size as the original one. But it will be in a more convenient location, near the airport terminal and an office block.

“The processing time for our handling agents will be much shorter and the overall process model will then, for the first time in many years, be up-to-date,” Deubel says.

MidAmerica St. Louis Airport strives to use cargo infrastructure to help its surrounding region. About 2,300 acres of on-airport, undeveloped land has been set aside for a future business park. MidAmerica is looking for interested tenants.

Tim Cantwell, director of MidAmerica, talks about the effects of smaller airports.

“When you’re measuring intentions of an airport, you have to measure the intentions of the region they’re at and their effort,” Cantwell says. For example, an additional flight into a small town would have a larger effect than an additional flight into a bigger city such as Atlanta.

“If we get two or three 747 loads a day, we are growing this community tremendously,” Cantwell says.

He says MidAmerica, which has a reputation for being inessential, wants to be an alternative consolidation point for Asia-bound airfreight.

“We’re trying to take the truck out of the intercontinental goods traveling from Asia to Latin America and Latin America to Asia via the air,” he says. “Most of the goods and services between those two continents will go on a truck and get double-handled in the United States.”

EuroAirport is pursuing the pharmaceutical industry with its new cargo terminal. The building will have temperature-controlled modules, two parking bays for freighters and on-site presence of French and Swiss customs authorities.

EuroAirport has a mission to handle 50 percent of all its region’s airfreight by 2020. In September, two freight carriers arrived at the airport: AirBridgeCargo began a flight to Moscow and Emirates SkyCargo to Dubai.

“The new cargo terminal and the future offering of direct freighter connections will support regional business growth, in particular the export-oriented industry close to the airport,” Alessi says. “This will provide an opportunity to reach out to the world fast and safe.”

He also believes the terminal project will spur growth in EuroAirport’s region.

“The investment sum – 40 million euros – represents a big commitment to the industry in the region,” Alessi says. “In addition, our customers are also investing in their respective infrastructure. Altogether, this is a positive signal, which may attract further investments. The new cargo terminal is also expected to create more jobs in the mean term.”

Hamburg Airport has no 100-percent cargo partner, but Deubel hopes its cargo center will help change that.

“This new cargo facility will put us in the position – and we have started this – to be more self-offensive regarding possible new partners for pure air cargo, which is something of a weak point of our actual cargo situation,” he says. “We hope to build up new connections in the future, and this new facility should help us.”

Right now, Hamburg Airport has leasing contracts with two handling partners, Swissport and LHU, a Hamburg company and the airport’s biggest handling agent. Hamburg Airport has room for one more handling partner.

In order to help Midwesterners move goods internationally, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport runs seminars on export and introduces buyers and sellers to each other.

MidAmerica has an agreement with Ningbo Lishe International Airport, three hours south of Shanghai by truck, to work on a confined cool chain between the two airports. Cantwell says this has already helped MidAmerica’s neighbors. He tells the story of a local dairy farm that now flies its Greek yogurt to Ningbo Lishe for consumption in Asia.

“He’s not a large one. He’s not going to fill up a 747. He’s probably going to have 10 tonnes a month max,” Cantwell says.

Cantwell uses this farm as a tangible example of one of MidAmerica’s goals: “Opening markets of the world to the Midwest.”

San Francisco Airport admits that it does not concentrate on cargo as much as other large airports, but it understands how its new West Cargo Facility fits into the surrounding region.

“SFO is probably one of the largest employers in the area,” Doug Yakel, SFO’s public information officer, says. “We expect that over the next 10 years, this capital improvement plan is going to create about 36,000 new jobs. So there is a construction benefit to it, but the commerce that’s made possible by our cargo operation not only supports those 33,000 direct jobs right now, but there’s about 150,000 jobs in the Bay Area that are dependent on the air service that SFO provides. So I would say that the cargo certainly fits into that puzzle.”

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