Despite challenges Atlanta holds its own
While many airports are seeing the very tangible adverse effects of the lethargic global economy which has once again sent the cargo market into a slump, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has remained on course, buoyed by a diverse customer base and a number of competitive advantages over other competing US airports. By Karen E. Thuermer.
When Robert Kennedy, director of Business Development at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), spoke to a room full of shippers last May at the Georgia Logistics Summit, he presented some pertinent facts: ATL is the world’s busiest passenger airport (Beijing ranks second), the busiest for aircraft operations (950,000 aircraft operations in 2010) and the ninth busiest cargo airport in the United States behind Memphis, Louisville, and Anchorage. It’s a message that shippers will hear increasingly more as Atlanta gears up to host TIACA’s Air Cargo Forum in October 2011. “Thirteen all-cargo airlines fly into ATL,” Kennedy said. “We have nine of the world’s top 10 cargo airlines in the world. Only one is missing and that is Emirates.” And be sure, airport officials are rapidly pursing them. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways commenced cargo flights to ATL in November, with a twice weekly service using B777 freighters on the route. Despite a tough economy, ATL continues to expand its air cargo reach and capacity. A press release stated that weekly cargo flights increased by more than 40 per cent from 2010 to 2011. Cargo carriers at ATL have added 24 flights per month in 2011. In September, Asiana Airlines began operating seven flights per week, with daily B747-400 service, up from the four weekly flights when it first commenced service at ATL last year. Also increasing cargo capacity between Atlanta and Asia are China Cargo Airlines and Singapore Airlines. In September, China Cargo Airlines doubled its weekly flights from three to six and Singapore Airlines added a flight this year, bringing it to four weekly flights. Cargolux has increased its presence at ATL by now offering five weekly flights with B747-400 freighters with textiles, manufactured goods and agricultural products making up the bulk of its cargo flown from Atlanta. And in February this year, Cargoitalia also began flying to ALT. ATL’s competitive advantage Kennedy emphasised that when airlines look for a location, they consider three major components: Low landing costs, strong local market and a competitive advantage. “We offer all three,” he said. ATL is only a day’s drive from 80 per cent of US businesses, it’s served by 120 air freight forwarders and operations are 24/7 with no slot restrictions or curfews. “We also have the lowest landing fees of any major US airport,” he added. “We compete with Miami (MIA), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), and New York (JFK) and JFK is five times our rate.” Another advantage he presented: ATL has been the most efficient major airport in the world for the eighth straight year in a row. Despite the slumping world economy, cargo volumes year-to-date (YTD) through September 2011 showed a 1.87 per cent growth for the same period 2010, totaling 493,931 tonnes. “We continue to see slightly higher imports to Atlanta than exports,” reported Steve Luben, director of New Business Development at ATL. “The percentage of exports (44.9 per cent in 2011, 44.4 per cent in 2010) and imports (55.1 per cent in 2011, 55.6 per cent in 2010) has remained virtually the same from 2010 to 2011. Overall, we have a moderately balanced market.” The breakdown for import versus export traffic through ATL shows 2011 September YTD exports at 221,515 tonnes; 2011 September YTD imports at 272,416 tonnes. Among the top commodities exported are: Bird’s eggs in the shell – fresh, persevered or cooked; civilian aircraft, engines and parts; gas turbine parts; threaded screws, bolts and nuts. Top import commodities include: Digital data processing machines; fish fillets and other meat; taps, cocks, and valves for pipes/boiler shells/tanks/vats, including thermostatically controlled valves; automatic data processing storage units; and imports of articles exported and returned. Outlook For this year’s holiday season, airport officials expect the season to remain flat in terms of cargo moved with little to no growth. “We are continually working on our relationships with Asian and Middle Eastern airlines and airports to promote the Atlanta market and make them aware of the business and trade in our region,” Luben added. “The Atlanta Airport sends representatives to major tradeshows throughout the world to meet with airlines and airports to make the case for cargo operations in Atlanta. We are currently finalising plans for the 50th anniversary of TIACA’s Air Cargo Forum that will be held October 2 – 4, 2012 in Atlanta,” he added.