Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is continuing to solidify its position as the world’s busiest cargo hub. With its strategic location, HKIA serves as a crucial gateway for the Greater Bay Area (GBA) and plays a pivotal role in the global supply chain.
HKIA maintained its top-ranking position in cargo traffic in 2022, having handled 4.2 million tonnes of cargo. The hub has held this impressive accolade in 12 out of the last 13 years. As an essential gateway for the region, HKIA facilitates the movement of goods from Asia to the rest of the world, boasting a robust network and connectivity, serving diverse countries across the globe.
“We foresee that air cargo in Hong Kong will have positive growth in the coming future,” Irene Lau, Assistant General Manager, Aviation Logistics at Airport Authority Hong Kong, said. “This is something we will continue to build on, so we have very positive aspects of development at the hub and in the region.
Even during the pandemic, HKIA demonstrated flexibility, responsiveness, and agility to keep the air cargo supply chain operational. Despite the challenges faced by the industry, HKIA handled over five million tonnes of cargo in 2021. The airport’s robust infrastructure, preparedness for cold chain logistics, and ability to serve additional charter flights and accommodate ad hoc shipments contributed to its success during the pandemic.
“I can definitely say that Hong Kong has taken the correct steps in carefully balancing the needs of both passenger and cargo traffic, which are both equally important for the region’s success,” Lau explained.
Connectivity is crucial
Recognising the ever-growing trend of e-commerce, HKIA has invested in infrastructure, standards, and operations related to e-commerce logistics. Notable developments include the establishment of Cainiao Smart Gateway, the Alibaba-backed premium logistics centre, covering an expansive area of around five hectares and boasting smart solutions to improve throughput. Additionally, major logistics players like DHL have expanded their facilities at HKIA to accommodate the rising demand for e-commerce fulfilment services.
“We have a responsibility to keep the air cargo supply chain going,” Lau said. Even during the pandemic, HKIA was active moving ventilators, PPE and digital equipment for individuals to work from home.
HKIA is also working on facilitating international postal shipments especially those from South China in collaboration with China Post and Hong Kong Post, by building a dedicated transit mail facility by 2025. Upholding its high standards, the airport emphasises best practices and operational standards through accreditations such as IATA certifications for various cargo types, including perishables, pharmaceuticals, live animals and recently, lithium batteries.
“That’s a testament to the reliability of Hong Kong as a hub,” Lau stated. “The collective efforts of everyone in the airport community make it happen.”
HKIA’s future development plans include expanding its intermodal service and strengthening its role as an international cargo hub. A new intermodal cargo pier will be established within the airport premises and upstream HKIA Logistics Park would be set up in Dongguan, a leading manufacturing hub in the GBA. This will allow exports from mainland China to undergo security screening, palletisation, and cargo acceptance in Mainland China, which is then shipped seamlessly to the airside of HKIA by sea for direct air transshipment to overseas destinations, without the need to undergo security screening again at HKIA. Likewise, imports to mainland China can be shipped directly from the airport’s airside. When the initiative is fully implemented, it can reduce costs by approximately 50% and cut handling time by one-third.
“In terms of infrastructure, we have a number of missions, from terminal operations to facilities to cargo agents,” Lau highlighted. “We are very responsive on opportunities, such as e-commerce. We’re very adaptive to the change to ensure we have a range of service offerings, which ensures we can meet the needs of the region and customers.”
On the multimodal front, HKIA is always on the look out for more opportunities to connect to mainland China and the rest of the world, with Lau highlighting how they are exploring different modes of transport available.
Streamlined and sustainable
HKIA has also invested heavily in its digital platform, which aims to streamline operations and improve the user experience for stakeholders such as freight forwarders, warehouse operators, truckers, and cargo terminals. The platform promotes visibility and tracking of cargo status, facilitates collaboration with global trade partners, and integrates regulatory processes to enhance global trade facilitation.
HKIA’s commitment to sustainability is another significant aspect of its future development. The airport authority aims to achieve net carbon zero by 2050 and has already implemented various sustainability initiatives. These include upgrading the fleet of Ground Services Equipment (GSE), deploying autonomous tractors, supporting the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), and encouraging the adoption of recycled and upcycled materials by airlines.
“The airport strives to be very sustainable. That’s another important aspect that our industry partners should know,” Lau explained. “Together with the airport community, we are committed to achieving Net Zero Carbon by 2050. The airport has a number of very important sustainable initiatives at a time when Hong Kong is, again, the number one ranked cargo hub in the world.”