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Embracing change through innovation

Myron Keehn
photo_camera Myron Keehn

Edmonton International Airport is going through a transformational development that will see the largest expansion of cargo capacity in the airport’s history. We spoke to Myron Keehn, president and chief executive, about its plans and future prospects for the Canadian hub

Airline Cargo Management: What are the key features and innovations at Edmonton’s air cargo hub?

Myron Keehn: Edmonton International Airport (YEG) is an inland port with uncongested access by rail from Prince Rupert and Vancouver and onward by air or truck to all points in Canada and the US.

The Edmonton region is known as Port Alberta and sits within a Foreign Trade Zone. We are located minutes from Nisku Industrial Park and have direct access to the US and Mexico Canamex corridor.

We process cargo through all modes of transport and facilitate seamless movement to all major points across the continent. YEG has import, customs and export services centralised on-site.

Our two-way cargo demand supports cargo freighters, and we offer belly cargo opportunities for passenger operations. Our operations have no curfews or operating restrictions and we offer low fuel, landing and operating costs.

Our Fresh Cargo Centre (FCC) cold-storage facility is located on-site and meets the highest international standards to house cargo that needs specific temperature controls.

The FCC is IATA CEIV Pharma certified to handle heavily regulated medical-grade pharmaceuticals and has multiple temperature zones for agricultural products.

We are the only airport in Canada with the globally recognised CEIV Pharma community certification from the International Air Transport Association.

How do innovations such as robotics and intelligent warehouse automation increase speed, efficiency and transparency?

Users of cargo facilities need to leverage technology to maximise the efficiency and throughput in existing facilities.

Automated facilities increase the storage capacity of cargo and provide faster handling for air freight customers.

Robotics and intelligent warehouse automation reduces manual labour, travel time and errors, keeping cargo moving efficiently and allowing workers to focus on higher value tasks.

How important is digitalisation, and what progress is being made in that area?

In 2020, YEG unveiled a five-year innovation expansion strategy focusing on a holistic, large-scale redesign and modernisation of our business model.

We are introducing technology to operate a more digital company by applying data insights into the decision-making process. Digital innovation will support our cargo business and partners.

There is a tremendous opportunity to introduce greater visibility and transparency of cargo transport, and we are working with firms with interesting technologies to track movement in real-time while generating data insights to support the business.

We are evaluating opportunities where we can support our cargo community in their own digitisation initiatives and simplifying the exchange of information.

YEG
Around 30 per cent of YEG’s site is dedicated to cargo and logistics infrastructure

And when it comes to considerations around sustainability, what is the airport doing?

Being dedicated to sustainability is one of our five core values. The environmental, financial and social aspects of sustainability drive every business decision.

We manage airport assets responsibly, support environmental stewardship and drive regional economic prosperity.

Everything that we do is guided by our commitment to create meaningful partnerships that protect our airport, manage our environment, grow our region and connect our community to the world.

This includes supporting economic opportunities, creating jobs, focusing on innovation, creating awareness, and driving action on environmental, social and governance initiatives.

We recognise we have a special opportunity to ensure strong progress in all aspects of sustainability – now and in the future for the betterment of our region and the world.

We want our communities, passengers and children to be proud of their airport and what we can do together to improve the world.

Here’s just some of our initiatives:

  • YEG’s Airport City Sustainability Campus has attracted $1.5 billion in investment over the past nine years. It is an integrated ecosystem that spurs collaboration and innovation while fostering the commercialisation of emerging clean technologies.
  • In 2021, YEG became the first airport in the world to sign The Climate Pledge, an initiative led by Amazon that now includes more than 300 global businesses and organisations working towards becoming carbon neutral by 2040.
  • Also in 2021, YEG and Air Canada signed the world’s first sustainability agreement between an airline and an airport. The YEG-Air Canada Sustainability Partnership focuses on initiatives that will promote a cleaner environment.
  • In May 2022, KLM and SkyTeam selected YEG as the host airport for the long-haul entry in The Sustainable Flight Challenge. KLM’s Flight 675 non-stop to Amsterdam from YEG was chosen based on our commitment to ESG best practices.
  • YEG is one of few major airports in the world to have successfully integrated drone logistics. In December 2021, we became Canada’s first airport to begin regularly scheduled drone delivery operations. This work continues with Drone Delivery Canada and partners Apple Express, Ziing Final Mile and Leduc County.
  • The world’s largest airport-based solar farm is being developed in partnership with Alpin Sun on YEG’s southwestern lands. The 627-acre facility will provide enough electricity for 28,000 homes and offset 106,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
  • We are the first terminal in Canada to receive LEED® Gold certification. YEG has reduced the energy intensity of the terminal by almost 50 per cent while doubling the size of the building.
  • In 2021, we installed a cogeneration system to heat and power the terminal, reducing CO2 emissions by 8,000 tonnes. Cogeneration has reduced our Scope 1 and 2 carbon footprint by 20 per cent, saving over $3 million in utility costs.
  • YEG works with on-site glycol recycling partners so 46 per cent of used de-icing fluid is captured for recycling and reuse.
  • In 2022, we became the world’s first airport to join IATA’s Environmental Assessment Program.
  • We were one of the first airports to join the TIACA BlueSky program that tracks sustainability, benchmarks against peers and accelerates transformation.

How do your dedicated air cargo facilities meet the global demand for quality and speedy air cargo transport?

In September 2022, we completed our 47,000 m² cargo apron expansion to accommodate more planes for loading and unloading.

Approximately 30 per cent of YEG’s site is dedicated to cargo and logistics infrastructure, with an additional 2,000 of our 7,000 acres being developed for future cargo and logistics activity.

In July 2022, the federal government announced up to $100 million in funding under the National Trade Corridors Fund to increase cargo and logistics handling operations at the airport.

The project will convert 2,000 acres of land into a new global cargo hub expanding multi-modal distribution throughout Canada, the US and Mexico.

The International Cargo Hub is a transformational development that will be the largest cargo expansion in the airport’s history.

It will serve as a vital trade corridor for Canada and position the country to capitalise on the rapid global growth of e-commerce and import/ export fulfilment.

Cargo Village is the cargo and logistics component of YEG’s Airport City Sustainability Campus that supports our community of airlines, handlers, logistics partners and customs brokers to ensure the appropriate handling and processing of air freight.

It allows many complementary components of the cargo supply chain to operate within the same geographic area at the airport, shortening transfer and wait times, reducing handling and improving safety and quality.

Air cargo must move quickly and seamlessly through the many links in the supply chain, including airlines, customs, warehouses and trucking companies. Being able to have all of these companies within YEG’s Cargo Village maximises efficiency.

YEG
YEG has import, customs and export services centralised on-site

What impact has the past couple of years had in terms of operations, business and outlook?

During the pandemic, YEG saw a surge in activity from dedicated charter operators looking for a freighter-friendly airport providing a high standard of uninterrupted service.

The increase in cargo tonnage has been remarkable because passenger flights and associated belly-cargo capacity was still reduced from pre-pandemic levels.

Last year was a record year for YEG with cargo volumes growing by 7.2 per cent over 2021, despite global air cargo demand declining.

Pre-pandemic, e-commerce was a fast-growing segment that has accelerated over the past year.

E-commerce continues to be a major growth driver and is one of the top commodities moving through YEG, as well as perishable products that require temperature control.

We now have more non-stop routes than we had prior to the pandemic and we are continuously focusing on adding more flights to more places.

How do you see the future for air cargo? Where would you see the company in five years?

There continues to be volatility in supply chains and our priority is to remain agile and support our communities’ needs.

Our focus is to continue expanding our physical infrastructure, while exploring digital infrastructure that can improve the efficiency of our facilities.

About 80 per cent of all cross-border e-commerce moves by air because it is the only way to meet the aggressive delivery timelines that customers have come to expect.

Our region’s favorable business environment and availability of land for industrial development, including warehousing and other logistics needs, continue to support cargo demand.

We’re also excited to welcome new and improved access to our Northern communities in the near future, which we hope to be able to announce soon.

How do you see the air cargo market in general currently? What are the major trends and issues?

Today’s supply chains are highly interconnected, and there is even more collaboration in the industry than previously. The air cargo industry needs to continue embracing change, such as using digital technology to enhance the end-to-end process.

Sustainability is at the forefront of the air cargo market. The air cargo industry is prioritising embracing innovation and applying a sustainability lens to every aspect of logistics.

The air cargo and logistics industry needs to continue focusing on adopting new methods to share data with shippers and customers.

Innovative solutions to provide accessibility and visibility are being introduced into the supply chain designed to monitor packages, shipments and warehouses.

Partners in the supply chain can then observe end-to-end, real-time tracking and monitoring solutions, giving them full visibility throughout the shipping process.

It is important to recognise that the industry is shifting and customers are looking for digital technology solutions that provide shipping data.

The sector is essentially balancing economic growth, environmental care and social well-being.

Today’s actions will ensure we generate global economic prosperity through authentic environmental, social and governance leadership.

No business can do this in isolation, and true change happens in partnership. YEG is committed to working collaboratively and looks forward to expanding as an international cargo hub.

This feature was first published in Airline Cargo Management – May 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.

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