Airport infrastructure is often a challenge at many of Africa’s airports, but with cargo volumes increasing, development needs to be fast tracked.
In January 2018 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published its report on air freight demand in 2017 and found that African carriers posted the fastest growth in year-on-year freight volumes, up 15.6 per cent in December 2017 and a capacity increase of 7.9 per cent.
This contributed to an annual growth in freight demand of 24.8 per cent in 2017 – the fastest growth rate of all regions.
The report revealed that this is only the second time African airlines have topped the global demand growth chart since 1990.
It further reads that demand was boosted by very strong growth in Africa-Asia trade which increased by more than 64 per cent in the first eleven months of 2017.
Much of the traffic however is still carried by non-African carriers. Air France KLM Martinair Cargo is a notable player on the African air freight scene.
“Since the beginning of the summer 2018 schedule, we have opened a new Air France route to and from Nairobi operating three times a week with a 787 Dreamliner, allowing us to offer more capacity to our customers in the East Africa region where demand is strong,” comments Manuel Weill, Vice
President Area, Africa Caribbean Indian Ocean at Air France KLM Martinair Cargo.
These flights are operated on a code-share basis with partner Kenya Airways totalling 10 weekly non-stop frequencies between Paris and Nairobi, with three flights operated by Air France and seven operated by Kenya Airways.
This recent Air France service is in addition to that of KLM, which operates a daily service between Amsterdam Schiphol and Nairobi also deploying Boeing 787s. The link to Nairobi will connect to around 23 regional destinations as a result.
Cooperation between the three airlines is paving way for a new Joint Venture (JV) that should see several synergy benefits.
“Yes, Air France has joined the historical KLM Kenya Airways JV, this alliance being an asset to be able to offer to our client’s different opportunities from and beyond Nairobi.
“Our freighters have a strong presence in Africa with no less than 12 countries having a freighter flight operating at least once a week,” adds Weill.
There are several airport development projects on the continent from Zambia to Togo and elsewhere with the aim of improving the management of freight and ultimately increasing those volumes.
For instance, construction of Senegal’s new Blaise Diagne International Airport in Dakar has taken over 10 years, costing a reported $575 to build.
However, aviation experts have often said many African airports lacked an integrated approach to develop cargo. Weill feels cargo seems to always to be a ‘by-product’ of airports contextual design when it comes to cargo.
“A nice example is that of the new airport in Dakar opened last December–the cargo village is still not operational,” he says.
Also, in respect to cargo diversifying in terms of offering seamless logistics supply chain management, Weill observes that airports are still developed for loose load delivery or collection.
However, he says the industry is heading towards fast tracking deliveries which causes challenges in terms of delivering shipper built ULD’s and the design layout isn’t always compatible with this requirement, in turn causing its own challenges and bottle-necks.
The location of cargo warehouses in correlation to where the freighter’s ramp (parking bays) is also critical. Or indeed the terminal parking bays for passenger flights.
“If not strategically located, this can lead to cargo getting damaged en route to the aircraft and poses either load ability issues, security problems [in terms of pilferage] and timing issues in getting the cargo to the required parking bay timeously for loading. Adequate and good quality roads from cargo to tarmac is also important to deliver quality pallets to the aircraft,” notes Weill.
There are, obviously, examples where the planning process has been thoroughly thought through. At Ethiopian Airlines’ cargo division, the new state of the art Cargo Terminal 2 is just one.
Inaugurated on 29 June 2017, and when combined with the existing terminal, it gives the operation a total tonnage capacity of around 1 million per annum which is the largest in Africa.
This milestone, as the company puts it, makes Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services one of the world’s largest cargo terminals; comparable with cargo terminals in Amsterdam Schiphol, Singapore Changi or Hong Kong.
The new terminal covers an area of 40,000m2 for the warehouse facility of which the dry cargo warehouse lays on 22,000m2 and the perishable warehouse lays on 18,000m2.
Whereas, the major areas of the terminal are the apron, the office building and the land side parking area placed around 68,886m2, 10,000m2 and 20,400m2 respectively.
The new warehouse is equipped with modern cargo handling equipment having eight Elevating Transfer Vehicles (ETV) and seventy Workstations for import, export and transit.
“We are currently moving the operation phase by phase to the new terminal so that we have a seamless transition,” declares Fitsum Abady, Managing Director at Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services.
Abady hesitates in attributing the recent surge in uplift purely because of the new terminal expansion since it’s not yet fully operational.
“But we are confident there will be enhanced service as well as cargo volumes in the period ahead. In addition, we are seeing our partners being motivated to develop new products and markets and they see our cargo hub as an opportunity, we are seeing lots of requests related to e-commerce and bonded warehouse rental,” Abady reveals.
Of importance, for Ethiopian especially, is growing trade between Africa and Asia, and seemingly, the new cargo terminal in Addis Ababa is built with that growth in mind.
In February, Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services scooped the accolade for ‘Fastest growing International Cargo Airline of the Year’ at Air Cargo India.
The biennial awards ceremony was held in conjunction with the seventh edition of Air Cargo India exhibition and conference, recognising cargo carriers with immense progress and leading innovations in the air freight industry while enhancing customer experience.
“The new cargo terminal will support the growing trade lane between Africa and Asia by enhancing the transit service provided at our Addis hub, which will eventually enhance the trade and traffic between the continents.”
An increasingly important accreditation to have is IATA’s CEIV which aims to have the entire air cargo supply chain get on the right track with achieving pharmaceutical handling excellence.
Abady reports that CEIV certification is underway: “We have introduced technologies in recent years to bring us up to speed with the cold chain for temperature sensitive shipment transportation.
This will help us manage the CEIV certification and if we may need any further infrastructure developments for the future we are ready to consider any.”
When highlighting some of the new technologies, Abday mentions the purchase of an application equipped with user friendly Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) for remote monitoring of the temperature in every temperature controlled compartment [chamber].
“We have installed an SMS based alert system to monitor the temperature changes inside the cold room [chamber]. And we have also implemented data loggers to follow up temperature changes along the cool chain and take appropriate corrective action.”
Abday further states that there are plans to do temperature mapping to improve the uniformity of the temperatures at all corners of the temperature controlled compartments/chambers.
To minimise the time spent in between aircraft loading and unloading, Ethiopian Cargo have constructed the aircraft parking right next to the aircraft ULDs storage cold room. “Moreover, we have made all the docks sealed to avoid leakage.”
Ethiopian Cargo is also able to monitor the temperature of arriving trucks using thermometers and keep records for trend analysis and propose improvement opportunities.
“We have implemented a blast chiller for fast cooling of shipments that come with higher temperatures than the recommended range and we are currently evaluating the need for vacuum coolers for flower exports for those destinations which need longer shelf life,” Abday continues.
Considering that African airlines recorded the fastest air freight growth rates of all regions in 2017 [IATA], the airport authorities on the continent will be looking to prepare adequately for this upswing in volumes – and quickly.
Weill advises the airports to become agile in listening to the dynamics of the cargo industry. “They need to build larger cargo acceptance hubs with roll on roll off capabilities for shipper-built units to ensure faster delivery and collection of cargo.”
He reminds that in a fast moving cargo environment where service delivery is measured in real time where it be via cool chain management or via fast track delivery – speed and efficiency is the focal point.
“Also, the customs process needs to be improved at export and import, including working hours to be extended wherever possible and airports should also push to accept more e-manifests.”
In summing up, Weill strongly stresses that to support the expected increase of volumes, airports should look at decreasing taxes, improve security and streamline documentation and generally make handling cargo more efficient.
Clearly, there is much to be done, but with the number of new airport developments coming online in the coming years and with Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services leading the way, opportunities for the air cargo business in Africa are immense.