We’re all too aware of the many disastrous implications of global climate change – from the impact on coastal communities of rising sea levels through to the dangers of increasingly unpredictable seasons on agricultural cycles. But what about our own industry? A recent report in Climatic Change suggests that the implications could be serious for air transportation, and are well worth considering as the effects of climate change become more evident.
The report points to the way in which steadily rising temperatures will have an effect on the density of the air in the atmosphere. This has a direct impact on the amount of lift that our planes can generate – with serious consequences in terms of the amount of cargo that the aircraft would be able to carry. In extreme situations it could lead to aircraft being grounded during the hottest periods – with the experts suggesting that up to a third of flights might be prevented from taking off. If true, the impact of increasing air temperatures would be particularly serious for air cargo operators – especially those who use larger aircraft such as the 777-300. The answer for the air cargo industry could lie in weight restrictions below their maximum take off weight – but the costs could be substantial.
A worrying pattern of evidence
“As air temperatures rise at constant pressure, air density declines, resulting in less lift generation by an aircraft wing at a given airspeed and potentially imposing a weight restriction on departing aircraft,” says the report by Coffel, Thompson and Horton. “Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airlines and impact aviation operations around the world.”
Ignazio Coraci comments: “This is troubling news for the industry, because it builds on previous research from 2015 – a compelling pattern is emerging that suggests that climate change could have very serious implications for our industry – not just in terms of cost but also in the quality of the service that we can offer our customers. As an industry we must do everything we can to make sure that the impact of climate change on our industry and the customers we serve is kept to a minimum.”
The pace at which we all respond to the demands of our customers is critical – and recent investments made by some of the world’s leading air cargo operators suggest that the industry is finally getting the message about e-commerce.
The sector is booming within the air cargo industry and KLM Cargo have now invested in a combination-carrier-operated sorting system at its Amsterdam Schiphol airport site that is able to handle package-level air freight. It’s been designed specifically to handle post, express and pharmaceutical cargo.
That means that KLM Cargo should now have the systems in place to fully take advantage of the growth in e-commerce traffic. Marcel de Nooijer, executive vice president of KLM Cargo explains: “E-commerce is a fast-growing branch in the cargo industry. This innovative system allows us to keep pace with the rapid increase in post and express consignments. The system is faster and smarter, allowing us to offer better service to our customers.”
KLM Cargo have described the new facility as a world first, and it’s clear that it should now allow the business to make more use of its air freight capacity. KLM Cargo have teamed up with Netherlands-based Parcel International to run 12Send, a new same-day delivery service for Europe. They’ve already piloted the service on routes between Amsterdam and Barcelona, and have held successful trials in London, Madrid and Stockholm.
A lesson for the sector
Ignazio Coraci comments: “This is a sign of things to come. No industry can afford to ignore their customers. The investment made at Amsterdam Schiphol is an indication that businesses are slowly beginning to listen to changing customer needs, and I feel that we are starting to move in the right direction. This kind of investment is essential if carriers want to survive as new markets develop.”
Amazon is nothing if not ambitious. The online retail giant has made great strides in recent years into new business areas – spreading its influence and using its huge leverage to build new revenue streams in areas as diverse as fashion, loans, drone technology, physical shops and groceries. And when Amazon brings its influence to bear on a particular industry, the existing companies operating in that area need to take notice. So, is air cargo and logistics next on the Amazon wish list? And if so, how should the rest of the industry respond?
Amazon’s recent moves in China, which reports suggest include developments in its air forwarding operation, certainly have interesting implications for the rest of us in the air cargo industry. While the extent of Amazon’s new investments are not yet clear – for example whether this freight forwarding offering is actually the start of a process that will end with Amazon ultimately flying its own air cargo between the US and China – it can certainly be seen as a sign of the US giant’s growing ambitions in this area.
A striking trend
Amazon has been growing its influence over its logistics operations in recent years. It has recently invested heavily in facilities in the US, with a new centralised air cargo hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport costing around $1.5bn. Amazon will base a proposed fleet of 40 aircraft at the hub and the huge investment fits with a growing pattern of Amazon’s increasing interest in air cargo, logistics and forwarding.
A challenge for the industry
Ignazio Coraci comments: “Amazon’s investments in freight forwarding services in Asia and its plans for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport are ambitious, as you’d expect from a company known for its innovation and readiness to push into new areas. However these initial moves suggest that long haul air freight isn’t their immediate focus – rather it may be that they’re looking to save on domestic deliveries. Whether this changes in the future is hard to predict – but it’s a challenge that the whole industry must be ready for.”