E-commerce, technology and pharma focus for Hactl

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2017 has to date been a strong year for Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl) as freight flies through Hong Kong and it is expanding services to meet rising demand.

This follows from a record-breaking 12 months last year when Hactl handled 1.65 million tonnes of cargo, up 1.7 per cent on the previous 12 months.

The ramp handling business was also very busy, setting three new all-time records, including on 23 November when the cargo handler turned around 101 freighters in a single day, beating the previous best of 98 set 19 days earlier.

Speaking to Air Cargo Week at air cargo europe in Munich, Hactl executive director, Vivien Lau (pictured below) says the first quarter (Q1) of 2017 was really positive: “Cargo has really picked up and Q4 last year was really good. In Q1 this year we consolidated and if we compare Q1 this year to last year we are up by 12 per cent.”

Importantly Lau says this growth is not being driven by one particular sector and it is across the board. “Part of it is e-commerce as we are seeing more mail shipments and parcels coming through and electronic products is rising. In Q1 there was new product launches and that helped and special cargo and perishables – anything and everything really,” Lau explains.

She says shipments of imported perishables like fruit are on the rise, which is fuelled by the expanding middle-class population in China and its growing thirst for fresh fruit. “There is a growing demand in China as the middle class are demanding better fresh fruit like cherries from Australia,” Lau notes.

Hactl is meeting e-commerce demand through its subsidiary Hacis which is growing its SuperLink China Direct road feeder services (RFS) into China to meet surging demand. Last year Hacis started five new express lanes between Hong Kong and the e-commerce centres of Jiangmen and Heshan.

Its two largest road feeder centres, at Guangzhou Airport and Shenzhen Airport, showed 35 per cent growth in 2016 with this trend continuing into 2017.

Lau is also executive director of Hacis and says: “We have been focusing on this as have seen continuing demand from China and Hong Kong and is why we expanded this network.”

The missing link

Hacis now has eight depots in China and runs a range of RFS express lanes, which could be expanded in future to meet rising e-commerce demand. Lau says the SuperLink China Direct was expanded for e-commerce as local agents had a basic set-up but were missing a direct link from Hong Kong and this was the rational for building it up.

“We are monitoring closely where the cargo is and where there is demand where will make sure we place ourselves there,” Lau adds.

The Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau Bridge is due to open this year, and will cut journey times to 40 minutes and will boost RFS services throughout the Pearl River Delta region. Lau says it will strengthen Hong Kong’s role as the region’s main hub airport.

Lau says on the Hactl side, the handler will invest in technology and has dedicated resources to building up mobile phone apps and it is putting more emphasis on it. “This is the trend now. The truckers want to access the information through their mobile phones and our staff want to have the handling guidance on a mobile phone so we have developed a new app and it is proving to be very efficient – so technology and innovation will continue to be a strong theme,” Lau says.

Hactl handles cargo for more than 100 carriers but actively for 50-60 as some are offline and each Lau says have vastly different requirements, which presents varying challenges.

“The industry has been changing fast and freight forwarders and airlines are expecting more and more from the ground/cargo handler and with e-commerce it is changing the handling and it can be more complicated,” Lau says.

Pharma and CEIV

She adds: “We used to just handle general cargo, which was easy with big pallets and one air waybill, but now with shipments there are a lot of different requirements to ensure the supply chain is properly handled and that is a challenge as we must get keep ourselves updated and motivate our staff to do more. Then at the same time the resources are always limited.”

Pharmaceuticals is also another focus and earlier this year Hactl gained the International Air Transport Association CEIV Pharma certificate – becoming the first handler in Hong Kong to obtain the certification and this has improved its handling standards in the sector.

Lau explains: “Through the process of getting the certificate we looked at the process of moving pharmaceuticals and redesigned our operational procedures to make sure we had the shortest possible time for the pharma cargo to be handled from when it landed in HK and collected by the shipper.”

And Lau is clear she wants more information to be shared before it handles payloads on an aircraft: “We would love to have more information of the capacity and if we can be provided with accurate information of the cargo it would definitely help us with the handling.

“We worry about such things as lithium batteries for example and there are occasions when it is not declared and it poses a risk to us and the aircraft.”

Hactl won Cargo Handler of the Year Air Cargo Week World Air Cargo Awards in Munich on 10 May, which was held during air cargo europe.