MIA facilitates Latin American trade with Asia

Miami International Airport (MIA) is without a doubt the leader in the Americas for international freight and the world's largest gateway to Latin American and the Caribbean and increasingly the air cargo hub is promoting its Asian connections to South American markets. Karen E. Thuermer reports.

While MIA controls the north/south cargo flows in the Western Hemisphere, this Florida-based airport is also increasingly significant for cargo traffic linking the Americas with the high growth markets in Asia, Europe, the Middle East/Gulf region and beyond. In fact in 2009, MIA ranked first for international freight in the US ahead of No. 2 ranked New York Kennedy (JFK) and No. 3 ranked Chicago O’Hare International (ORD).

Asia fell well below South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe, however, for import and export cargo in terms of volume and value in 2009, according to the latest figures available. For example, 233.5 million tonnes were exported through MIA from South America last year compared to 6.6 million tonnes from Asia. These translated into approximately US$18.2 billion in exports to South America versus $814.7 million to Asia. On the import side, MIA saw 335 million tonnes imported from South America versus 15.6 million tonnes imported from Asia. Regarding value, imports from South America totalled $4.2 billion compared to $1.6 billion from Asia. A closer look at country totals for Asia shows Hong Kong as the largest recipient of goods from MIA – 1.5 million tonnes worth $192.2 million in 2009. China weighed in as the No. 1 exporter with MIA seeing 8.5 million tonnes of goods valued at $872,777 million. Japan weighed in second for exports for both tonnage and value. Japan also came in second also for exports from MIA with Singapore holding the No. 2 slot for MIA imported value from Asia. China ranked third for MIA export tonnage (964,373 kilos) and third for MIA export value ($140.965 million). MIA’s Asia connection Asia’s importance to MIA continues to change with this past year MIA seeing China Airlines and Cathay Pacific freighters build up to six weekly frequencies each and Korean Air moving to daily service. As a result, China Airlines realised a 68.5 per cent increase in freight volumes via MIA between January-September 2009 and the same period 2010, with total freight weighing in at 20,728 tonnes in January – September 2010 versus 12,301 tonnes in January-September 2009. Cathay Pacific saw a whopping 114.5 per cent increase in tonnage from January-September 2010 over the same period 2009 with volumes weighing in at 18,814 tonnes versus 8,772 tonnes, respectively. Korean Air realised a 37.5 per cent gain with January-September 2010 tonnage weighing in at 14,963 tonnes versus 10,881 tonnes for the same period in 2009. While MIA air cargo growth remained slow up through June this year, July and August saw volumes saw a slight increase. “However, September has shown that the slowdown is nothing of grave concern as the numbers were better than anticipated,” comments Chris Mangos, MIA marketing director. He adds, however, that consumer confidence remains down. “That is a big driver for year-end and holiday sales,” he says. “Pre-holiday stocking is not showing a big momentum yet, and that may be the barometer for projecting a ‘good’ ending to the year, but not a ‘banner’ ending.” Mangos estimates that for MIA at least, the in-transit freight numbers will continue, but there will be a notable difference in year-end origin destination freight. Consequently, MIA officials have chosen to link opportunities for Asian carriers with Latin America. “During this past year our Asian freight promotion and marketing has been almost exclusively targeted in Latin American, and to a degree, Caribbean markets – not Asia,” comments Mangos. The reason is while MIA is seeing healthy increases in tonnage from Asia, back haul can be a challenge. “We thought it best to use the MIA brand, which is so recognised in Latin American/Caribbean trade circles, to create awareness of our three Asian carriers and reinforce MIA as the choice for shipping to Asia,” Mangos emphasises. “The message to the Latin American trade community was focused on MIA’s growing access to three ‘power house’ Asian cargo hubs, and the ease of steering their freight through MIA.” The message has been carried through presentations and correspondence, and a print advertising campaign in Spanish targeted to the freight forwarding and logistics communities, trade and cargo associations, the airlines operating in the region and to the business community in general. Meanwhile, there has been a considerable increase in Latin American flight operations by passenger airlines at MIA. Both American Airlines and a host of Latin carriers, including the LAN group and TAM, have introduced or are introducing several new routes, along with expansion of others. “These increases in lift become viable for freight, regardless of their being belly-space only capabilities, due to the volume of frequencies to capital and secondary cities in the Central and South American markets,” Mangos says. “That is not to say that our freighter airlines have not expanded frequencies.” Through September 2010, landed weight by freighters is up just over 14 per cent, and freighter operations have grown 5.3 per cent. While a host of US carriers have are undergoing consolidation and mergers, MIA has not felt the impact. “Only 16 per cent of freight is carried on passenger aircraft, and the remainder on freighters,” comments Mangos. Alternately, MIA did experience the demise of Arrow Air, its largest cargo airline, during this past year. “For the most part, we have been able to accommodate the loss of lift through other carriers serving overlapping routes,” he adds. “But, there have been some difficulties along the way, complete with some occasional southbound and even northbound backlogs.” From an airport operator’s standpoint, these are good problems to have, but the reality is that air cargo needs to move and fast. MIA is looking at ways to mitigate the occasional anomaly, particularly as officials there witness some rebounding commodity groupings coming back very fast.