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Georgia sets sights to become logistics hub

By Adina Solomon on March 20, 2014

Highways, railroads, the world’s busiest passenger airport and the U.S.’s fourth busiest seaport are all working “positively together” in Georgia, the state’s governor said Wednesday at the annual Georgia Logistics Summit in Atlanta.

“More and more of the world is discovering that Georgia is a good place to do business,” Gov. Nathan Deal said.

More than 2,200 people attended the two-day conference about Georgia’s logistics environment, said Chris Carr, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

The state is home to more than 12,000 logistics providers, and 80 percent of the U.S. market can be reached from Georgia within two hours – or two days by road, Deal said. The state also has growing warehousing opportunities.

“We’re making sure we’re making the right investments in freight,” said Toby Carr, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

He said the government wants to continue to develop the state as a logistics hub.

Miguel Southwell, interim aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, talked about the air transportation aspects of Georgia, including the airport working on its 20-year, US$4 billion (2.8 billion euro) master plan. Most of Hartsfield-Jackson was built in 1980, so it’s due for an update, Southwell said.

The airport also has a lot of real estate it wants to lease or develop, he said.

Southwell also discussed the threats to the aviation industry. One is high fuel costs. Some companies are developing more fuel-efficient plane engines to combat this, while Delta Air Lines recently bought its own oil refinery.

“This is kind of a drastic step for a company to take,” he said.

The high cost of airport infrastructure is another challenge, especially for U.S. airports.

“Asia now sets the standard for world airports,” Southwell said. “We’re sort of struggling to keep up.”

The air transport industry is also facing a pilot shortage that Southwell said began after Sept. 11, 2001, when airlines started seeking only college-educated pilots. That means a pilot needs to attend university in addition to flight school.

“That makes it an extremely expensive prospect,” he said. “We’re now reeling from that.”

Hartsfield-Jackson provides training for airport officials and eventually wants to provide consulting service to other airports, though right now, it can’t form a separate company for that because of Georgia state laws, Southwell said.

“We believe there’s a high potential to generate revenues,” he said.

Southwell expected Hartsfield-Jackson to continue to hold its title as busiest passenger airport because the many Asian airports dilute the passenger numbers at the world’s second busiest airport, Beijing Capital International.

Southwell referenced a recent Airbus study that projected growth in the Asian middle class over the next two decades.

“We have an obligation to link Georgia with these growing economies,” he said. “The outlook for air transportation is good.”