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Dynamic Dubai

Middle Eastern cargo carriers have grown strongly in recent years, aided by infrastructure investments at major airports in the region, including Emirates SkyCargo’s dual-airport hub in Dubai, as Helen Massy-Beresford finds out

Dubai, the world’s third biggest hub for international air freight, has the capacity to handle almost 3.1 million tonnes of cargo every year, with its strategic geographical location in the United Arab Emirates and fast-growing regional airlines contributing to its volumes.

Expansion of its cargo facilities should ensure that it grabs its share of growing demand from sectors such as pharmaceuticals, e-commerce and perishables in the years to come.

Emirates SkyCargo, which is responsible for a large share of Dubai’s cargo volumes, operates across the city and Emirates’ two airports. Its Emirates SkyCentral facility at Dubai International Airport (DXB) handles the cargo from the airline’s passenger aircraft in a facility spread over 43,600m², with an annual handling capacity of over 1.2 million tonnes of cargo, compared with about 2.5 million tonnes of capacity for the wider airport.

As of 2014, airport operator Dubai Airports has moved all pure cargo operators to Dubai Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). “Both the airports are undergoing expansion to ensure we are ready to accommodate growth as it happens.

“There is no more physical space at DXB to build additional facilities, as such capacity will have to be created by use of new technology and streamlining processes to increase the flow of traffic across the touchpoints,” says Faisal Al Mulla, Director, Cargo Business Management, Dubai Airports. “This is being done under the DXB Plus programme which was launched last year.”

In September 2016, Emirates SkyCargo added an 11,000m² extension to its cargo terminal at DXB, including a dedicated state-of-the-art pharma handling facility. It recently completed works to integrate the former dnata cargo terminal at DXB, which it has refreshed and connected to its existing facilities, leaving it with 3,300 ULD storage positions, says Henrik Ambak, Emirates’ Senior Vice President, Cargo Operations Worldwide.

If volumes have been continuing to grow in recent years despite macroeconomic challenges – Emirates SkyCargo is under no illusions that the breakneck growth it has been enjoying can last for the long-term.

“Demand for air cargo in 2016 and 2017 has been healthy and we are happy to experience a positive market upturn after a few challenging years. Emirates SkyCargo will continue to maintain healthy growth levels but we do not foresee the scorching 15-20% annual growth levels witnessed some years in the past,” Ambak says. “With the volume levels that we have achieved currently, even a 1% further growth at the moment translates into a large additional volume of cargo uplifted.”

Seabury Consulting’s industry-wide analysis (see page 44) also found that some of the Middle East’s key players are showing the first hints of a slowdown in growth, as reflected in cargo numbers for 2016, released by Dubai Airports. Air freight volumes at DWC showed a slight 0.8% increase in 2016 to 897,998 tonnes, while at DXB cargo volumes recovered in 4Q16, rounding off the year with 2,592,454 tonnes in freight, up 3.4% compared to 2,506,092 recorded during 2015. But the airport operator is certainly counting on long-term growth, even if that growth comes at a slower pace than in previous years.

“Construction on the Cargo Mega Terminal has been completed and the module is fully operational as a dedicated facility for pharmaceutical shipments and special perishable cargo. We also have the west cross dock which connects truck movements for belly to freighter connections at DWC, exclusively for the use of Emirates SkyCargo,” Al Mulla says.

Emirates SkyCentral’s facility at DWC handles the cargo from its freighter aircraft, in a 70,000m² site, with a current cargo handling capacity of close to 750,000 tonnes per annum.

“However, we will shortly complete the ULD handling system, bringing the cargo capacity up to the original plan of one million tonnes per annum,” Ambak says. Emirates SkyCentral DWC has 15,000m² of dedicated storage for temperature-sensitive goods such as pharmaceuticals, fresh fruits and vegetables, and seafood. The facilities include three temperature-controlled storage rooms for pharma, in addition to 72 cool cell and 144 ULD positions.

Demand for perishables is on the rise from mature markets such as Europe, as well as from countries „such as China and India where a rapidly growing middle class now has disposable income to spend on fresh fruits, seafood and other produce.
“With Emirates SkyCargo’s dual operation of bellyhold cargo being managed at its Cargo Mega Terminal at DXB and freighter cargo at DWC, cargo is moved 24/7 by truck between the two airports via a bonded virtual corridor,” Ambak explains. “Emirates SkyCargo has 47 trucks that ply the virtual corridor between the two airports, with each truck equipped with satellite tracking to ensure the safety and security of cargo and staff.”

The transit time is just five hours for ULDs arriving on a freighter and departing again as part of bellyhold, or vice versa, Ambak says.

Emirates SkyCargo has obtained European Union GDP (Good Distribution Practices) certification for its entire pharma handling operations at the two hubs, and trucking operations between hubs, at Dubai. It launched Emirates Pharma in 2016 and has seen growth rates of over 25% year-on-year for temperature-sensitive pharma shipments.

The airline’s current infrastructure should cover its capacity needs until 2025-7, Ambak says. “We are currently reviewing next steps to ensure that we have the proper infrastructure to support our further growth in volume and further introduction of specialised services that require specialised infrastructure. And yes, we foresee that further work will need to be undertaken,” he adds.

“We work closely with Dubai Airports to ensure that DXB and DWC airports, and the surrounding support structures, are best geared to support the common goal of continuing to develop world class transport solutions for our global customers,” he adds. “Positive cooperation with Dubai Airports is essential to the success of Emirates SkyCargo.”

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