During the U.S. West Coast port crisis early this year, shippers desperate to serve their clients had to turn to airfreight to get their goods to their appointed destinations on time. Many U.S. airports were overwhelmed with cargo, causing mass confusion. At Chicago O’Hare, truckers reported waiting four to nine hours to get to freight facilities. Some of this delay was due to road construction around the airport, but 200 unscheduled charters flying to Chicago in April and May added to the mayhem.
Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarder’s Association, said 105 people showed up at a town hall meeting organized at O’Hare. The ground handlers reported being swamped, but unable to hire more help because security clearance for new personnel takes six weeks. Freight forwarders were also inundated, and had to spill over into airlines’ warehouses.
Although the meeting was called to deal with problems in Chicago, Fried said there were two representatives from the Atlanta Airport, simply to observe. When he asked why they were there, he was told that the overcrowding was becoming unbearable in Atlanta, too. “Things are starting to stabilize [from the port crisis], but it just shows what can happen as facilities get overwhelmed,” Fried said.
Congestion is one of many challenges facing major airports around the world today, with passenger and cargo services often operating under one roof. Attempting to manage these two different services at the same time is creating problems for many airports as they lose focus or are distracted from the objective of the business. With airfreight demand growing, particularly in e-commerce, the issue of unfocused airport operations is becoming a significant problem, particularly in developing countries.
Airport expansion is not always the answer, as in many cases there is nowhere to expand. Adding runways and slots for aircraft and building cargo facilities requires vast areas of land. Building new, more efficient facilities on the footprint of old ones, or creating cargo villages where everything is consolidated into one area are solutions that airlines, forwarders and airports are putting into action.