ACE Awards 2018: Top airports, carriers chosen for Air Cargo Excellence


The top vote-getter in the Large Carrier category (1 million tonnes of cargo handled and up) came as little surprise: Cathay Pacific Airways, which was a Platinum Award winner last year, won the Diamond Award this year.

A spokesperson from Cathay Pacific Cargo said 2017 was the strongest year for growth in airfreight demand since 2010, led by the double-digit growth of the carrier’s intra-Asia lanes. Last year, Cathay Pacific also became the first airline in Hong Kong to be awarded IATA’s CEIV-Pharma certification, and it also formed a strategic partnership with Atlas Air from June 2017 to provide additional capacity.

The Platinum Award winner in the Large Carrier category was also a familiar name – Lufthansa, which rose up from its Certificate of Excellence level last year. The Lufthansa Group achieved record-breaking results in 2017, with total revenues up 12.4 percent to €35.6 billion. “We expect substantial earnings with regard to our product and service portfolio,” said Lufthansa Cargo CEO Peter Gerber, regarding future growth in 2018. The German carrier also made waves when it said it will start charging €12 for processing paper-based air waybills (AWB) as of this month.

A resurgent Air France-KLM also made it back to the awards category, after a notably long absence, with a 102-point overall score and a Gold Award. Cargo traffic at AF-KLM grew by 1.8 percent in 2017, driven by demand to and from Asia, the carrier said.

For the Smaller Category carriers (up to 999,999 tonnes), there were more familiar names such as perennial customer favorite Southwest Airlines taking back the Diamond Award with the highest overall score of all the carriers, 113 points. This year is expected to be notable for Southwest, which launched its new point-of-sale system last month, called Southwest Cargo Suite (SCS), and will begin international cargo service for the first time in the carrier’s history in May. “This system will replace a much older system from the 1990s, so for that reason alone, it’s exciting,” said Wally Devereaux, senior director of cargo and charters at Southwest.

Air Canada, which scored a Gold Award last year, won a Platinum Award in 2018. Tim Strauss, vice president of Air Canada Cargo said the carrier achieved 27 percent growth, year-over-year, in terms of cargo revenue, which “puts us in the upper levels of the global guys,” he said. The Montreal operation, alone, saw 60 percent growth, year-over-year.

Delta Air Lines ended up with the Gold Award, thanks to what Shawn Cole, Delta’s vice president of cargo, said was “a transformative year for Delta Cargo.” In August, the carrier opened the Cargo Control Center, allowing Delta to track all the freight it sends, anywhere on the globe, and allows it to anticipate operational issues, such as weather. Delta also launched a number customer-centric of services, such as Dash Critical & Medical, as well as a pilot RFID technology program. In July, Delta obtained IATA’s CEIV-Pharma certification at its headquarters and warehouse in Atlanta.


On the airport side of the ACE accolades, some of the biggest upsets came in the Medium- and Small-sized facilities, where only one out of the six award winners in 2017 – São Paulo’s Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) – repeated in one of the top-three award levels this year. VCP, which earned a Platinum Award in 2017’s contest, improved to the Diamond Award level in 2018, scoring 115 overall points.

Beyond VCP’s continued excellence, the big surprises all came from North and South America, and most of them didn’t even reach Certificate status in 2017. Ecuador made a particularly strong showing, as Quito International (UIO), a.k.a. Mariscal Sucre International Airport, took not only the Diamond Award for the Medium-sized airports (400,000 to 999,999 tonnes) with the highest point total in the 2018 ACE Awards (124), but also the overall award for the top handler of Specialty Cargo (see sidebar). In addition, just 400 kilometers away, relatively obscure Guayaquil International Airport (GYE), recently renamed Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport, scored an impressive 105 points and won the Gold Award for the Small Airports category (up to 399,999 tonnes).

Andrew O’Brian, president and director general of Quiport, which operates UIO, credited the achievements of the hub – known mostly as a gateway for perishable goods to North American and Asian markets – to the airport’s “profound knowledge of the activity, efforts and great passion for our work,” which has been growing steadily since it replaced an outdated airport in Quito five years ago.

The remaining award winners are all located in North America: Oakland International (OAK), won the Platinum Award and Toronto Pearson International (YYZ) won the Gold Award in the Medium category. Also Orlando International (MCO), won the Platinum Award for the Small category.

According to OAK, a major West Coast hub for FedEx and UPS, the airport ranked 14th in the U.S. in terms of cargo tonnage in 2017, which rose 6 percent compared to 2016. Hopes remain high for 2018 at OAK, which saw a robust 21 percent year-over-year increase in cargo demand this January. “2018 is shaping up to be a strong year for the integrated carriers as online shopping continues to gain market share in retail sales,” OAK said in a statement.

For the Large Airport category (1 million tonnes and above), this year welcomed back many of the usual large hubs again, as they took top honors, including a Diamond Award for Singapore’s Changi International Airport (SIN). As the 7th largest air cargo airport, Changi saw its cargo handle increase by nearly 8 percent in 2017, as it handled 2.13 million tonnes of airfreight, crossing the 2-million-tonne annual mark for the first time.

Lim Ching Kiat, managing director of air hub development for the airport’s operator, Changi Airport Group (CAG), said Changi Airport is also preparing capacity for the future. Together with the remodeled Changi Airfreight Center, SIN’s handling capabilities will increase from 3 million to 5.4 million tonnes, annually. “We anticipate that sectors such as aerospace, e-commerce, perishables and pharmaceuticals will continue to grow and be the key drivers for Changi Airport’s cargo throughput,” Lim said.

Making another triumphant return to the Awards list is the world’s largest cargo operation, Hong Kong International (HKG), which earned a Platinum Award after settling for a Certificate of Excellence in the last survey. According to HKG, the airport’s cargo throughput rose by 9.2 percent, officially crossing the 5 million tonnes threshold – the first time any airport has reached that lofty tonnage figure.

With continuous growth in air traffic demand, the existing two-runway system at HKG is running close to its maximum capacity, but a third, 3,800-meter runway has been under construction since August 2016. The project involves reclaiming 650 hectares of land and adding 57 parking positions. By 2030, the new third runway will allow HKG to handle up to 9 million tonnes of cargo annually.

The previous year’s Diamond winner, South Korea’s Incheon International Airport (ICN), stayed on the podium this year, winning a Gold Award with 108 overall points. Tae-jin Lee, assistant manager of ICN’s cargo marketing team, said that, in response to the increase in cross-border e-commerce volume and perishable cargo, the airport is promoting the development of a 23,400-square-meter terminal tailored for express carriers, plus a 16,500-square-meter facility for Atlas Air and an 18,000-square-meter cool-chain center for perishables.

“Although caution is required with the likes of the rise in trade protectionism around the globe, mounting trade pressure from the U.S., and the increase in oil prices,” cargo volume at Incheon in 2018 is expected to slightly increase, Lee said, thanks to the recovery of the global  economy, led by the manufacturing and private consumption sectors.

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