Airports in the Middle East are moving in to capitalise on the region’s growing importance in the world cargo network. Aviation Business News looks at how these major hubs and their base carriers are facilitating the transit of growing volumes of freight.

    Middle Eastern airlines topped the world cargo growth table for the first time in more than two years this summer, according to IATA figures.

    The July figure of 5.4 per cent was up from 4.1 per cent in June and reflects the buoyant market in the region. Indeed, just as rival hubs at Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and now Istanbul, jockey for passenger market share, a similar pattern is emerging in air freight.

    Volga Dnepr

    Competition between hubs is reflected in major investments across the region. These include the imminent arrival of Istanbul’s new Havalimanı İşletmesi Airport, claiming to be the world’s biggest, and a brand new cargo facility at King Abdulaziz International Airport, in Saudi Arabia.

    Dubai Airports reports particularly strong growth in cargo volumes at Dubai World Central (DWC), where carryings of 475,190 tonnes in the first half of the year represented a year-on-year increase of 7.1 per cent compared with the 443,835 tonnes recorded last year.

    After a robust growth of nearly 9 per cent in the first quarter, cargo volumes at DWC reached 245,359 tonnes in the second quarter, up 5.4 per cent compared with 232,691 tonnes during the same period last year.

    Pivotal to the importance of both hubs is Emirates Airline, 14per cent of whose revenues derived from cargo carrying in there last financial year.

    A spokesman said: “Dubai’s strategic geographical position enables us to transport cargo to all four corners of the world, from Europe, to Africa, Asia- Pacific and the USA and is integral to our success. Recent innovations at Emirates SkyCargo include Emirates Wheels for car transport, Emirates Pharma to transport temperature sensitive medication, and Emirates Fresh for perishables, such as fruit and flowers.”

    Cargo volumes at Dubai World Central (DWC)
    Cargo operators are increasing volumes through DWC

    Dubai-based global handling agent dnata (Dubai National Air Transport Association) provides world cargo handling services to 127 airlines at Dubai International Airport, in addition to World Central, and reports steady growth, driven by both sea-to-air and air-to-air cargo carriage.

    Tonnage at the two hubs has risen from 714,429 in 2016-17, to 730,835 in the 12 months to March this year and 308,063 for the five months since then.

    Kevin Ennis, vice president, commercial and business development cargo, outlines what dnata is doing to make both airports as cargo-efficient as possible: “As our operations expand in tandem with the growth of Dubai as an aviation hub, we rigorously challenge our processes and work practices by applying leading technology and training to improve efficiency and safety – and avoid unnecessary cost on a sustainable basis.

    “Last year we opened a new customer service centre and Cargo Integrated Control Centre (CICC) in the Dubai Airport Free Zone, as well as another cargo warehouse, increasing our processing capacity.

    “It breaks down barriers between our teams and all government agencies by offering one combined work space. It includes a special cargo acceptance area and a new office space for airline and freight forwarding customers, to ensure consistent and collaborative product delivery.”

    Ennis adds that in March, dnata became the first ground handler to implement a global roll-out of the iCargo terminal operation suite across all its stations.

    “This investment will enable us to manage our air cargo movement worldwide seamlessly, and have all our operations on one cargo management IT platform using unified processes. The system will be gradually implemented, and by 2020, we will have a user base of over 5,000 employees across 27 stations in 10 countries.

    dnata has also taken initiatives to improve product handling. Ennis says the Dubai operations have been recently awarded IATA’s Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (CEIV Pharma).

    Omar Hariri, chief executive at Saudia Cargo
    Omar Hariri says Saudia Cargo’s new facility will double in size

    “This means that we have proven our capability to manage the movement of pharmaceutical products safely and reliably, under strictest standards.”

    Further investment will focus on streamlining all processes even further. dnata has worked with Dubai Customs Authority to develop the Advanced Cargo Information system (ACI).

    The system receives cargo shipment information electronically from airlines in advance through standard IATA messages, including flight manifests and air waybills, thereby enabling efficient cargo processing and redispatch.

    Appointment and dock management (ADM) allows customers to book a service appointment, select by 25 per cent. Our CICC is a modern investment in a technologically advanced control room that monitors and manages all our cargo export operations.

    The traffic management system (TMS) will use number plate recognition to help reduce congestion and waiting times at Dubai Airport Freezone.

    Meanwhile, the cargo management system (CMS) empowers operations colleagues by delivering relevant information to their fingertips through a mobile handheld device.

    “Forwarders, agents and airlines will be handled digitally, in a transparent and efficient manner,” says Ennis. “We’ve already implemented real-time tracking, which enables us to turn around cargo in the shortest possible time.”

    Growth has also been particularly strong at Hamad International in Doha, the main hub of Qatar Airways. The headline figure of 34.4 per cent has been achieved despite the economic blockade by the country’s neighbours, says Elaine D’silva, lead cargo marketing officer.

    Qatar Airways Cargo claims to be one of the world’s leading international air cargo carriers, serving more than 60 freighter destinations worldwide with a fleet of two Boeing 747-8 freighters, 13 Boeing 777 freighters and eight Airbus A330 freighters, as well as delivering freight to more than 150 key business and leisure destinations on its scheduled passenger services.

    Qatar Airways Cargo facility at HIA
    Qatar Airways Cargo facility at HIA

    At Abu Dhabi, all cargo movements are handled by Etihad Airways, which established its Etihad Airport Services cargo terminal in 2004, and had built annual freight tonnage to 900,000 by 2017.

    Abdulla Mohamed Shadid, Etihad Airways managing director cargo and logistics services says: “Abu Dhabi is ideally positioned at the centre of the world’s busiest trade lanes, and there is a constant flow of goods passing through, ranging from garments, raw materials and perishables from the East, to heavy machinery parts, and oil and gas equipment, from the West.

    “General cargo has witnessed steady growth over the past decade, as seen elsewhere around the globe. More recently, there has been increased growth in premium product verticals flowing through our cargo hub.

    “These are primarily cool chain products, such as pharmaceuticals, which have witnessed the fastest growth. Others include valuables and precious metals, in respect of which Abu Dhabi has become a global centre and Etihad Cargo a key player. The recent emergence of the cultural district has introduced a flow of valuable works of art and musical instruments.”

    Shadid explains that there has also been an increase in the transportation of luxury cars, which has led to the launch of the FlightValet product in July this years, as well as of perishables, for which the airline recently launched FreshForward, designed to ensure items such as fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, fish, meat and flowers move seamlessly across Etihad Cargo’s global network.

    Apart from Etihad’s SkyStables product, which is exclusively flown on main deck capacity, as well as specialised large cargo pieces, such as industrial equipment and SUV motors, the carrier is able to carry most cargo on either lower deck or main deck capacity. “Specifically, for this year, thanks to increased demand, we are dedicating an entire freighter aircraft for charter flying during the busy fourth quarter.”

    Etihad’s strategy places it at the heart of the emirate’s ambitious economic development plans, building up its high-value product segments while adding capacity on core trade lanes between Asia, Europe and the US.

    Etihad Cargo
    There will be a dedicated freighter aircraft for charter flying

    Shadid adds: “Considering that high value product segments such as pharmaceuticals, perishables and valuables are growing faster than general cargo in our hub, a suite of considered investments have recently taken place to better position us to cater for these.”

    Developments include dedicated cool chain rooms, and a pharma build and break zone within the existing cargo facilities. A forward handling pharma storage zone is being considered for the midfield terminal.

    The opening of Abu Dhabi’s new passenger terminal in the latter half of next year will release more space for cargo, with up to nine dedicated freighter stands.

    “The excellent relationships between Abu Dhabi stakeholders has resulted in traditional processes being revamped to reduce activity times and ensure that the product gets to the final customer in the shortest possible time,” says Shadid. “This has resulted in an increase in the airport-to-door capability, especially in perishables.”

    With Istanbul’s huge new airport poised to open progressively over the coming months, Turkey’s infrastructure minister, Mehmet Cahit Turhan, reports that global cargo companies, including UPS, DHL, and FedEx have applied to rent facilities.

    “Istanbul will be the centre of global cargo transportation,” he said. “We will provide a great competitive environment especially for large companies that provide air cargo services globally.”

    Saudia Arabia is another country carrying out major airport investment, as Saudia Cargo has signed agreements with Al Bawani, Siemens and AECOM to construct a 75,000 m2 cargo handling facility at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

    The new facility, scheduled for completion in November 2019, will enhance Saudia Cargo’s handling capabilities as part of an ambition to transform the kingdom into a global logistics and economic hub.

    Key markets currently include India, with Saudi Arabia being the fourth largest export market for that country.

    “The 75,000 m2 cargo handling facility has more than double the area of the current facility,” concludes Omar Hariri, chief executive of Saudia Cargo.