Calgary’s cargo call
Canadian airport is a heavy-lift magnet, but seeks more mainstream freight.
In Western Canada, Calgary may be the top airport for heavy-lift cargoes, but it still plays second fiddle to British Columbia’s Vancouver International Airport when it comes to handling general air freight.
With significant flows from Asia and a strong passenger belly operation, Vancouver’s cargo throughput reached nearly 228,000 tons in 2012, an improvement of nearly 4,000 tons over the previous year. For the first eight months of 2013, Vancouver airport officials saw 148,497 tons of cargo touch down on its runways.
Seeing these significant cargo figures, officials at Calgary International Airport are dedicated to diverting some of this activity away from Vancouver to supplement its heavy-lift freighter work fueled by the region’s involvement in the oil and gas industry.
Calgary deals in large loads — officials routinely see Ukraine-built Antonov 124s land on their runway — but airport officials are increasingly concerned about the impact of the carrier industry’s shrinking freighter fleets.
Keith Stanley, Calgary’s manager of cargo and logistics development, envisions his airport taking some of the freight that actually originates in Alberta but flies through Vancouver.
Last year, as cargo activity fell steeply at many airports globally, Stanley said he didn’t see much change from the norm. This year there has been no “significant” growth, but he said Calgary hasn’t witnessed a downturn in activity.
In addition to large oil and gas equipment, Calgary sees a fair bit of live-animal shipments — Alta Genetics, an animal research facility, is headquartered nearby — and the U.K. military brings equipment to Calgary every winter for training at an area military base.
Calgary exported about 120,000 tons last year, Stanley said. According to Statistics Canada, Calgary’s 2011 tonnage stood at 83,524 tons, a 3.8-percent increase over 2010’s results.
The airport’s cargo activity is propped up by its hub status for FedEx, UPS, DHL and Purolator. Calgary gets thrice weekly service from a Boeing 747-400F, serviced by Cargolux, and sees daily services from Cargojet, Canada’s only all-cargo airline. For combination carriers, Air Canada will be upgrading its services to London and Frankfurt to Boeing 777-300ER aircraft this summer.
“We also have the pleasure of seeing the AN124 regularly gracing our cargo Apron 2,” Stanley said. “This aircraft has filled a specific need for our innovative engineering companies who export
fully assembled machines, engines and vehicles to the world’s oil and gas fields. In 2012, YYC was also visited by the AN225 Mriya.”
Calgary airport officials are currently working on generating more accurate figures related to cargo tonnage to better sell the airport to potential carriers. These new carriers would in theory help Calgary connect to new parts of the world.
“There are certain markets here that are not being served,” he said. “We have presence in Europe with Air Canada, Cargolux and KLM, but because of a lot of the business that we’re moving is oversized, we’re obviously looking for freighter aircraft to accommodate that.”
Stanley’s primary targets include an Asian carrier and an airline that would fly cargo into the Middle East, Africa and the Southwest Pacific.
“Asia is a definite reality,” he said, noting recent discussions with Asian carriers are starting to progress past the concept stage. “Other parts are a bit more difficult… but ultimately, in time, I think (a Middle Eastern carrier) will happen.”
The problem with Calgary attracting carriers isn’t due to a lack of shippers. Between Calgary and Edmonton — two and a half hours to the north — lies a major manufacturing corridor that generates large machinery parts shipped all over the world. Calgary is also trying to create for itself an industrial and manufacturing image to more easily attract shippers to the Alberta city.
However, the airport requires more in-bound freight, Stanley said. Carriers want to see cargo flows that travel both ways before making a commitment to Calgary, he added.
“I look at airlines that are currently serving Miami, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles back into Europe. If you’re flying into Los Angeles, you’re flying right over our airspace. So if your aircraft is coming in with U.S.-bound freight and is then moving back with capacity available, then it makes perfect sense to drop into Calgary and pick up incremental revenue that you probably wouldn’t be picking up otherwise,” he said.
“We’ve had interest,” Stanley added. “It’s just a matter of formalizing these things and making it work for the carriers concerned.”
Calgary officials are making a number of infrastructure changes to make the airport more attractive to cargo carriers. The airport recently opened a 53,000-square-meter apron that’s close to the runways to minimize taxiing time.
Stanley hopes these changes will attract larger aircraft, like Boeing 747 and 777 freighters. Cargolux, which flies freighters into the airport, will begin operating on the new apron once the airport finishes another project, the live-animal facility which is set open this spring.
Airport officials are planning a new, 98,000-square-foot warehouse for DHL and are currently talking with other handling agents to take space in the new development. A multi-purpose cargo terminal spanning 30,000 square feet is on the books. In addition, the airport is building a 14,000-foot runway project, which will open in May.
The most significant development, however, is a plan to move more of the supply chain participants onto airport property, forming a village of air cargo handlers and logistics providers. Currently, more than 200 airport tenants are spread throughout six trade parks in the vicinity.
“Our intention is to bring the freight forwarding community from various parts of the city directly onto the airport so everybody’s in one locality,”