Emirates’ Cargo Mega Terminal

The story of air freight handling in Dubai is as much about the rapid growth of the country as a whole as it is about Emirates Airlines' dramatic rise and a new air cargo terminal for SkyCargo is merely a temporary breather in the country's race to build the world's largest airport and logistics centre. Donald Urquhart reports.


The first stage of Dubai’s air cargo handling saw the country’s first cargo terminal built and operated by Emirates subsidiary Dnata.As Emirates SkyCargo volumes grew rapidly Dnata – which undertakes cargo handling for other international carriers- was unable to handle the substantial volumes and a decision was made for Emirates to set up its own handling facility.

Stage two of Dubai’s cargo handling phase kicked off in 2000 with the establishment of Emirates Cargo Centre.Developed out of converted hanger, thecargo centre had a maximum capacity of 375,000 tonnes per year, with an express mail facility next door which could handle 75,000 tonnes per year.

In service up until earlier this year, the cargo facility was pushed literally to its limits and beyond. SkyCargo managed to squeeze nearly one million tonnes of airfreight annually through the facility. “We were literally on our knees,” said Dave Gould, senior vice president – Emirates Cargo Global Operations.

Although in the original master plan, Stage 3 entails further development to give the facility a capacity of nearly three million tonnes, but Gould concedes this may not see the light-of-day because of the rapid development of Dubai Logistics City.

Cargo Mega Terminal goes live

The Cargo Mega Terminal which went fully operational nearly six months agohas an annual capacity of 1.2 million tonnes, the bulk of which is transhipment cargo. The equipment and IT system was supplied by Siemens and the whole facility was build as a series of modules.The first phase saw two modules operational mid-way through August2007 with the next two modules up and running end-February this year.

Included in the facility are 50 truck docks, 65 workstations for cargo processing on two identical floors – totalling 130 workstations – which enable simultaneous break down and build up of pallets, along with 57 transfer vehicles, 21 ASRM with three on each aisle accessing seven layers of storage, 16 cargo hoists,35 LSP hoists, as well as cargo x-ray andCCTV systems. Customs processing ofdocuments is also located on site.

With this new US$327 million facility, Emirates has the ability to store up to 10,000 pallets simultaneously in a fully automated Cargo Control System,operated by wireless technology.

The cargo centre can also store 2,400 ULDs simultaneously which are also controlled and tracked wirelessly. Becauseof Emirates substantial perishables business, the facility also has 200 temperature controlled ‘cool cells’.

The vast bulk of cargo through put is transhipment cargo, comprising nearly 80 per cent of total volumes, while imports account for about 11 per cent and exports 9 per cent, according to Ramesh Mamidala, manager Cargo Hub Development. And testament to Emirates SkyCargo’s significant perishables business, nearly 25 percent of total through put volumes are perishables.

“A lot of the export is in actual factre-export,” said Mamidala. Electronic components are brought in and assembledfor high-end electronics companies like Sony which has a distribution facility inJ ebel Ali and similarly for the apparel industry.

The facility is not a free port, but is a bonded facility and although not the biggest cargo terminal the world- Hactl in Hong Kong rings in at around3 million tonnes annually, followed by Heathrow at about 2.6 million – Dubai’s Cargo Mega Terminal is closing in fast and according to Mamidala it’s the most technologically advanced thanks to its wireless automation.

While the cargo facility has been seeing 20 per cent year on year growth in recent years, this may soon temper some what as the new cargo centre at the Jebel Ali airport will begin operations from end of this year.

Security has featured strongly at the new terminal, with 3 scanning machines- capable of scanning full 2 tonne capacity pallets, worth and US$2 million a piece- scanning all incoming cargo from the land side with Dubai Customs officials manning the monitoring stations.

While the US, with much controversy,has enacted a 100 per cent screening requirement for all cargo – belly-hold and dedicated freighter – by 2010, Emirates SkyCargo insists it already undertakes 100 per cent scanning of all cargo itcarries on board its aircraft.

“It’s a massive productivity hit, but we have to do it,” said Gould.

With nearly 800 staff in total working at the new 24 hours / 7 days-a-week facility, 250 people work each shift whichsees a peak period that gradually builds from 8 pm when the first cargo starts arriving to a critical period between 10 pm and 3 am when cargo volumes flow steadily in at one end of the building and out the other.

The shift to the new facility required extensive work flow changes and skills to bring the work force up to speed with the new automated systems, said Gould. “It was a fundamental change from 100 percent manual processes and lots of paper,to a vastly more automated system.”