Edmonton International Airport (YEG) is looking to connect Canada with key trade routes across the Americas and beyond with a revenue-generating and low-cost freighter gateway for cargo flights. YEG is a full-service cargo airport, with the volume of airfreight handled by the hub growing every year as more companies see the opportunity presented by partnering with the facility.
YEG recently marked a new start in its history, having welcomed Myron Keehn as its new CEO at the end of December 2022. Settling in, Keehn is focused on discovering new opportunities to drive value for the aviation industry and turning ideas into reality – many of these initiatives centre around decarbonising our airport operations.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with our team, stakeholders and industry partners to continue expanding capacity, building our air cargo network, driving innovation and continuing our sustainability efforts,” Mammen Tharakan, director of e-commerce, cargo and aviation real estate at Edmonton International Airport, stated.
Ahead of the curve
The growth at YEG is evident for all to see, with a 7.2% increase in cargo in 2022, compared to the previous year. Reflected in these numbers, YEG saw a surge in activity from dedicated charter operators looking for a freighter-friendly airport providing a high standard of uninterrupted service. The hub’s uncongested and efficient cargo operations contributed to this growth.
“Edmonton International Airport (YEG) is well ahead of the curve, having spent over a decade strategically planning for air cargo development and investing in real estate to service the global supply chain demand increase,” Tharakan said.
Years before the pandemic saw a rapid growth in the trade of pharmaceutical goods via air, YEG recognised there would be increasing demands for that sector in the coming years, with speed of delivery critical. “We were well ahead on these trends and have become a critical hub in the intermodal supply chain needs of global businesses,” Tharakan explained.
YEG is also the only airport in Canada with the globally recognised CEIV Pharma community certification from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), providing a fresh and safe gateway for perishable cargo.
“YEG’s forward-thinking leadership ensured we invested in this certification well before the pandemic. This means we
are certified to safely support the movement of temperature- sensitive commodities such as pharma, bio-pharma, vaccines, perishables and agricultural exports and imports,” Tharakan added.
About 80% of all cross-border e-commerce moves by air, as it’s really the only way to meet the aggressive delivery timelines that customers have come to expect. It represents 6% of the global economy, according to IATA.
Pre-pandemic, e-commerce was a fast-growing segment at YEG that has only accelerated over the past three years. Shifting from the ‘palletisation’ to the ‘parcelisation’ of cargo provides new business avenues for YEG.
The Edmonton Region’s favourable business environment and availability of land for industrial development, including warehousing and other logistics needs, continue to support cargo demand.
“Edmonton has always been a thriving consumption market with a very active retail market including brick and mortar supported by the high average wages, and no sales taxes which allows for a higher ‘take-home’ pay. A big portion of this spend has shifted to electronic channels and air cargo is supporting the movement of these goods,” Tharakan highlighted.
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Expanding on the ground
The Canadian government has invested up to C$100 million to increase air cargo and logistics handling operations at YEG. The project will convert approximately 2,000 acres of land into a new global cargo handling operation.
With this investment, the Edmonton International Airport will expand its multi-modal distribution throughout Canada, the United States of America, and Mexico. The airport’s increased cargo capacity will improve the movement of import and export trade routes and strengthen Canada’s supply chain.
“The International Cargo Hub is a transformational development that will be the largest cargo expansion in the airport’s history. It will include runway connections and taxiways to integrate new cargo handling aprons with direct airside handling operations and expansive facilities for handling, warehousing, automated e-commerce logistics and distribution,” Tharakan said.
In September 2022, YEG completed its 47,000 m2 cargo apron expansion. The expanded cargo area holds up to six more widebody aircraft, accommodating more planes at once for loading and unloading.
The airport’s increased cargo capacity will improve import and export trade routes and strengthen Canada’s supply chain. It will serve as a vital trade corridor for Canada and position the country’s leadership in global supply chains by helping capitalise on the rapid global growth of e-commerce and import/export fulfilment.
Canada’s most northern international airport and the northernmost major city in North America, Edmonton benefits from the confluence of the different modes: air, rail – with access to the busiest Canadian West coast ports, and road network with the CANAMEX corridor from Alaska down to Mexico.
“When using the earth’s curvature to improve supply chain efficiencies, YEG is a strategic location to access Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is a significant entry point into North America and Latin America,” he explained.
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Edmonton International Airport is a leading supporter of innovative businesses through its Innovation Expansion Strategy, exploring alternative energy, unmanned operations, technological developments and more.
YEG is one of the only major airports in the world to have successfully integrated drone logistics. In December 2021, they became Canada’s first airport to begin regularly scheduled drone delivery operations. This work continues to be refined and expanded with Drone Delivery Canada and the partners in this project – Apple Express, Ziing Final Mile and Leduc County. Drone delivery uses zero- emission drones to conduct final-mile delivery services, helping reduce vehicle traffic and emissions. It also connects products to remote or isolated communities or locations where vehicle access is disrupted.
Users of cargo facilities need to leverage technology to maximise the efficiency and throughput in existing facilities. Automated facilities increase the storage capacity of cargo and provide faster handling for air freight customers. Robotics and intelligent warehouse automation reduces manual labour, travel time and errors, keeping cargo moving efficiently and allowing workers to focus on higher value tasks.
The air cargo and logistics industry needs to continue focusing on adopting new methods to share data with shippers and customers. Innovative solutions to provide accessibility and visibility are being introduced to the supply chain.
Partners in the supply chain can then observe end-to- end, real-time tracking and monitoring solutions, giving them full visibility throughout the shipping process. This provides access to data in real time while products are in transit. It is important to recognise that the industry is shifting and customers are looking for digital technology solutions that provide shipping data. Service providers need to adapt to how customers, both large organisations and small businesses, want to view their shipments.
“There is greater interdependence between the various stakeholders in the supply chain than ever before. Air Cargo has demonstrated its agility and should now continue to embrace change and innovation to positively disrupt from within,” Tharakan said.