Perishables across the Pond

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Jimmy Nares


ACW spoke to Jimmy Nares, section chief of aviation marketing in the Miami-Dade aviation department and board member of Pharma.Aero about how the perishables market is looking across the pond.

2020 was a year for changes and challenges across the globe. As much of the world came to a standstill, the airfreight sector stepped up and proved more important than ever.

“While MIA’s passenger operations have been adversely affected by the pandemic along with most airports around the world, MIA actually experienced growth in its cargo operations in 2020,” explained Nares.

Record setting

Last year, MIA had 59,002 cargo only flights, 7,914 more flights, 15.5% higher, than in 2019.

“We are also expecting this year to be stronger than the last in terms of cargo volumes,” Nares adds.

“Through October 2020, MIA recorded a total of 1.9 million tonnes of cargo.  Following record-setting months in September and October of more than 200,000 tonnes of freight per month, we are expecting equally strong results to for November and December.”

Impressively, MIA is therefore on pace to surpass its all-time annual record of 2.3 million tonnes. The airport is the largest entry point for US Perishables Air imports, with 61% of perishables entering the USA there in 2019.

“As passenger aircraft were grounded, available cargo capacity shifted from passenger aircraft to cargo aircraft early in the pandemic,” Nares explains.

“MIA was in a unique position to weather this shift because it had a large number of freighter airlines serving the airport.  And, since our extensive air route network with major perishables producing markets in Central and South America remained largely intact, we had a very strong year for perishables.”

Strong year for perishables

According to the latest available US Census Data (capturing origin and destination trade), perishable cargo in 2020 grew by 3.7% year over year, which even outperformed overall cargo growth of 1.2% during the same timeframe.

Lessons learned in 2020 will be put the test in 2021 as the markets change and Nares expects “airlines to adapt to prevailing market conditions.”

“Passenger airlines that gave up their cargo operations in the past have been re-evaluating this area and are now considering or have re-installed dedicated freighter operations.  We expect this trend to continue as airlines do not generate revenue from their grounded aircraft.”

In regard to perishable cargo specifically, Nares explains the market has had to adapt to some adjustments in the timing of traditional peak seasons.

“For example, we saw the flower season rush for Mother’s Day last year begin earlier than normal because growers in Colombia limited the number of workers due to COVID.  We expect such adjustments to continue, but we still expect a strong year for perishables in 2021.”

Demand for cool chain

With vaccine and medical transportation now taking priority, especially in the cold chain, Nares stresses that “it will be important to mitigate potential capacity crunch” this may cause, that would affect perishable transportation. According to IATA, “providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft” and with some vaccines requiring two doses, this number could be higher.

“It will be important to mitigate potential capacity crunch by using these aforementioned tools and collaborating across the air freight logistics industry to maximize space on aircraft. However, I believe we will maintain adequate cargo capacity and continue to meet the challenges of vaccine distribution.”

MIA has ensured it has been proactive in dealing with the impending increased demand of vaccine distribution. “As early as September 2020, MIA launched its MIAVAC19 task force to plan and prepare locally for the large-scale distribution of the COVID vaccines.

“The task group consists of cargo community stakeholders including various MDAD divisions, airlines, cargo handling companies, FCBF, Federal Agencies, Florida Dept of Health, freight forwarders, logistics companies, dry-ice/container providers and pharma shippers to address operations, processing, cool chain management, etc.

“MIA has completed its mapping of its facilities and airfield infrastructure and is now working with the cargo community stakeholders to identify challenges such as: dry-ice, capacity, storage, maintaining temperature, and keeping the community in-formed.  We continue to collaborate with our stakeholders in order to optimise distribution efforts and save lives,” explains Nares.

With records being reached, even during the pandemic, it is clear perishable demand will continue to increase and Miami Airport will continue to be the gateway to the USA.