White elephants of yesteryear thrive as international cargo airports

MONTREAL's Mirabel airport is gearing up for some infrastructure improvements, reports London's Air Cargo News

02 January 2020 - 19:00

MONTREAL's Mirabel airport is gearing up for some infrastructure improvements, reports London's Air Cargo News.

The Canadian government and the local airport authority have pledged to contribute altogether C$107 million (US$81.24 million) to the project, which will go towards the construction of a 20,000-square metre cargo terminal, new parking positions for 13 freighters and improvements in road access to the airport.

According to Aeroports de Montreal, which manages the city's airports, the project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.

Mirabel had been Montreal's international airport, but in 2004 all passenger traffic migrated to Dorval, which is closer to the city, leaving Mirabel to cater for cargo and aviation-related businesses like aircraft manufacturer Bombardier.

The airport was often derided as a white elephant, but the cargo business has been thriving there. In 2018 it climbed 11 per cent to reach 107,660 tonnes.

Canadian all-cargo airline Cargojet, which performs line haul across the country for the parcel industry (carrying the traffic of all major integrators as well as Canada Post), has built up its presence at Mirabel to six nightly departures plus one morning flight, reports executive vice-president Jamie Porteous.

When the new cargo building is completed, the airline will move there, Mr Porteous said, adding that the more pressing problem is ramp space.

At its hub in Hamilton near Toronto, Cargojet has acquired a hangar adjacent to its own one. Currently it is occupied by DHL, which performs parcel sorting activities there. It will continue to lease the facility from Cargojet until it has completed the construction of a C$100 million (US$77 million) building that will quadruple its footprint at the airport. DHL's Canadian shipments have doubled since 2014.

Cargo airports have clocked up impressive growth. Chicago Rockford, which posted 55 per cent growth in 2018, has been the fastest growing airport with throughput in excess of 250,000 tons, according to the Airports Council International.

'In the 1990s everybody talked about a need for alternative gateways, but then the bottom fell out of the market. Now it looks like their time is coming,' remarks Mike Webber, associate vice-president of aviation planning and development consultants Landrum & Brown.

There is no argument that e-commerce has been the chief driver of this development.

'Jack Ma and Jeff Bezos want to move everything anywhere in the world in 72 hours. The answer is air cargo,' said Charles Edwards, director of logistics and freight at the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

'The old way of moving air cargo is gone. It is individual shipments with e-commerce. Then we're hit with the capacity at airports,' he continues, adding that the major gateways along the US east coast.


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