If 2020 was defined by the sharp drop in air cargo capacity, 2021 has been marked by slowdowns in air and ocean freight. The March obstruction of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given container ship set the tone for slowdowns, container imbalances and port closures that have persisted throughout the year and pushed cargo volumes to airfreight.
Air operators have risen admirably to the challenge, frequently surpassing monthly cargo volumes reached in 2019, even though capacity has yet to return to anything approaching pre-pandemic levels. The move in favor of air has led to its own complications, however. In the U.S. in particular, airport facilities and ground crews have struggled to keep up with the surge. Airfreight moves much more quickly than ocean, but low-tech facilities and labor shortages have slowed operations, sometimes requiring operators to wait for weeks before retrieving cargo.
The initial panic of lost capacity prompted carriers and freight forwarders to get creative, replacing some lost capacity with creative measures like passenger freighters and extensive charter networks. Airports are likewise moving to adapt, but major gateways, including Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD) and Shanghai (PVG), are hitting their limits. While difficult for major airports, smaller and freighter-focused airports are noting the benefits of robust cargo operations and working to attract more routes away from the congested hubs.
Airports dominate the September issue of Air Cargo World, featuring our annual ranking of the world’s top cargo airports from Associate Editor Kelly Stroh. Despite the difficulties of 2020 revealed in the volatility of rankings and year-over-year changes from 2019 to 2020, airport operators are optimistic that airfreight will continue to expand — and that airports prioritizing cargo operations will reap the benefits.
September’s secondary feature takes a more cautious approach, considering some of the risk factors that are affecting U.S. airports. In “Growth opportunities: U.S. air cargo infrastructure needs investment for the future,” the price of inaction around embracing new technologies and upgrading current facilities at airports is made clear. Operators are hopeful, however, that adopting improvements already in place in facilities overseas could prepare U.S. airfreight for the next few decades, if the nation is willing to foot the bill.
Later this year, airports are also the focus of the fifth webinar in Air Cargo World’s 2021 series, in “Thinking outside the terminal: Cargo Airports of the future.” That webinar is scheduled for Nov. 9, at 11 a.m. ET. Look for more airport and webinar updates on AirCargoWorld.com.
Editor, Air Cargo World