Editor’s note: an opportunity for growth
If 2020 was defined by the sharp drop in air freight capacity, 2021 was marked by slowdowns in air and sea freight. The obstruction of the Suez Canal in March by the container ship Ever Given set the tone for slowdowns, container imbalances and port closures that persisted throughout the year and pushed cargo volumes towards freight air.
Air operators have risen to the challenge admirably, frequently exceeding monthly cargo volumes achieved in 2019, even though capacity has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. The air movement, however, has brought its own complications. In the United States in particular, airport facilities and ground personnel struggled to keep up with the increase. Air freight moves much faster than the ocean, but low-tech facilities and labor shortages have slowed operations, sometimes forcing operators to wait weeks to collect cargo.
The initial panic of the loss of capacity prompted carriers and freight forwarders to get creative, replacing some lost capacity with creative measures such as passenger cargo ships and extensive charter networks. Airports are also adapting, but major gateways, including Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD) and Shanghai (PVG), are reaching their limits. While difficult for large airports, smaller, freight-focused airports see the benefits of robust freight operations and strive to attract more routes away from congested hubs.
Airports dominate the September issue of Air cargo world, with our annual ranking of the world’s best cargo airports from Associate Editor Kelly Stroh. Despite the challenges of 2020 revealed by the volatility of rankings and year-over-year changes from 2019 to 2020, airport operators are optimistic that air cargo will continue to grow – and that airports prioritizing freight operations will reap the benefits.
The September side article takes a more cautious approach, given some of the risk factors affecting U.S. airports. In “Opportunities for Growth: United States Air Cargo Infrastructure Needs Investments for the Future,” the price for inaction regarding the adoption of new technologies and the modernization of current airport facilities is clearly marked. Operators are hoping, however, that adopting improvements already in place at overseas facilities could prepare U.S. air freight for decades to come, if the country is prepared to foot the bill.
Later this year, airports will also be the focus of the fifth webinar on Air cargo world2021 series, in “Thinking outside the terminal: the freight airports of the future”. This webinar is scheduled for November 9 at 11 a.m. ET. Look for more airport updates and webinars at AirCargoWorld.com.
Editor-in-Chief, Air Cargo World