ACI: E-commerce helps fuel growth at world’s top airports

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Air cargo experienced a revival in 2017 with volumes at the world’s top 20 airports experiencing 6.8 per cent growth in 2017 helped by ever growing demand for e-commerce, Airports Council International (ACI) reports.

The top 20 airports handled 51 million tonnes of cargo between them, representing 43 per cent of global volumes, and ACI says that despite the threat of trade wars and growing protectionism, business confidence has remained strong through inventory build-ups and increased export orders in 2017.

Hong Kong International Airport retained its position at the top with growth of 9.4 per cent pushing over the five million tonne a year barrier for the first time.

ACI World director general, Angela Gittens says: “The universal access to online retail and e-commerce platforms represents a competitive pressure to the traditional brick and mortar retail shops in certain markets but the huge growth in e-commerce has fuelled the air cargo side of the airport business. This has resulted in increased global activity, especially in major markets such as China and the US.

She adds: “The spectre of uncertainty regarding trade policy among major economies comes at a time when global commerce and our industry has recently thrived. The trans-pacific link, for instance, is an important ingredient in boosting international passenger traffic and international freight volumes.”

The association says that many Asia Pacific airports act as export hubs and many North American airports handle significant imports, with the former seeing growth of 11.4 per cent in 2017 and the latter growing 10.3 per cent.

North America’s busiest airport, Memphis International Airport, which is home to FedEx and handled 4.3 million tonnes of air cargo in 2017 only experienced modest growth of 0.3 per cent.

ACI says competition from express delivery companies has become a reality with Amazon making significant investments at strategic airports including Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Though Amazon’s air cargo facilities will not be operational until 2020, the airport grew by 27.3 per cent in 2017.

Over in Asia, Alibaba is also working on regional hubs including logistics operations at airports in China and Malaysia.

ACI says that the reliability and efficiency associated with express parcel delivers that are generated from online purchases are an important driver in the upward surge in volumes.

The association adds that a temporary move away from ocean cargo as a result of marine industry consolidations and bankruptcy also helped give air cargo a short term boost.