Jason Tse, manager of commercial leasing, cargo at Vancouver International Airport says the pandemic has forced airports to rethink their operations to increase resiliency. He notes: “The pandemic has given Vancouver International Airport the opportunity to strengthen its operations and take on infrastructure and maintenance projects.”
He adds that improvements like this will make Vancouver Airport’s operations more streamlined and therefore increase its overall resilience.
Will the airport therefore be prepared enough if another crisis were to hit? Tse says: “No matter what the next challenge around the corner, we will continue to adapt, test and learn how to meet the future needs of our customers, and to build efficient and resilient operations.”
Tse believes that to do this, the airport must work with business partners and agencies to improve processing and also implement supporting technologies, which aim to improve predictability and efficiency for customers.
Aviation’s slow recovery
Following the trend seen globally, air cargo has been strong at the airport but passenger flights, and the precious belly capacity they provide, is still lagging behind. Tse says: “It’s now more than 22 months since a global pandemic was declared, and it is still not over. Despite the vaccine roll out in 2021, aviation’s recovery has been slow and new variants continue to emerge.
“As economies recover and evolve through the pandemic, we’re anticipating air cargo volumes to reach and surpass pre-Covid demand on a global level.
“Many factors are contributing to the growth of air cargo, including e-commerce, inventory replenishment, recovery of global trade lanes, and continued demand from consumers for goods over services.
“At Vancouver Airport, the majority, 70%, of cargo is shipped in passenger aircraft bellies though and until passenger flight volumes increase, cargo likely won’t surpass pre-pandemic levels.
“November 2021 saw the highest monthly cargo volume on record as it broke the previous record set in July 2018. Coming to the close of 2021, the re-emergence of the pandemic, loss of surface transportation links, shift of cargo from ocean container to air, and demand for online shopping around Christmas were contributing factors.”
That said, will freight be more important to the airport’s bottom line? “Vancouver Airport’s location, size and reach make it a natural hub for the movement of cargo, and this is continues to be an important part of our business.
“However, throughout the pandemic, it has become even more apparent how important cargo and reliable supply chain logistics are to our community and the economy that supports it.
“The greatest example of this is our role in helping facilitate the movement of essential shipments of PPE, medical supplies and vaccines. “Additionally, in the latter part of 2021, British Columbia experienced several extreme weather events that shut down major highways and rail lines across our province, significantly disrupting the lives and livelihoods of our community.
“For 10 days, the airport was the only transportation network operating at full capacity, connecting people and linking essential goods and supplies from Vancouver to the rest of the district.”
To cope with the demand, Tse says the airport is looking towards expanding infrastructure to support future cargo growth.
“In Canada we have the National Trade Corridors Fund and we know governments around the world are looking to support infrastructure investments, which support the supply chain.
“Vancouver Airport is also expanding investment in new technology with the acceleration of digitisation of the supply chain, which has the potential to revolutionise the air cargo business.
“The way that we strengthen our business and our cargo operations going forward will be by leveraging digital technology to unlock data and insights that will help us gain efficiencies and streamline processes, benefits of which will be passed to cargo operators and our community.”