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.”
It has been a truly impressive start to the year for Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), with growth in traffic right across the board. In terms of air cargo business, HKIA has handled an impressive 2.3 million tonnes of cargo already this year in the first six months to June – that’s up a remarkable 11.3% on the same period last year.
So what has been behind HKIA’s great start to the year – and more importantly, do the experts think it will be sustained? Well, in the latest figures from June, 410,000 tonnes of cargo passed through the airport, up 11.4% on 2016 – and there are indications that a 17% year-on-year increase in June exports from the airport led to the high growth in cargo tonnage for that period. That bump in export figures has certainly contributed then to the airport’s positive performance in the first half of 2017, but HKIA has also benefited from an improved global outlook. And with the Asian markets leading the way in air cargo growth, HKIA is in prime position to take advantage of a global economic performance that is looking positive in terms of consumer and business confidence.
Investing for the future
HKIA isn’t standing still, with work starting last August on a third runway to help accommodate future growth. The airport is also making further investments to ensure it meets the needs of customers.
“On the cargo front, HKIA continues to develop its ability to serve fast-growing segments of the high-value cargo business, such as fresh produce and temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals that require specialised handling,” says an airport spokesperson. “The airport authority and local industry stakeholders are working closely together to pursue the IATA Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (CEIV Pharma) accreditation on airport community basis and HKIA is expected to be recognised as an IATA CEIV Pharma Partner Airport by the third quarter in 2017.”
A sustainable future
Ignazio Coraci comments: “Clearly Hong Kong is an important site for both our ASC Cargo and SW Italia businesses, and so the news that air freight handling is continuing to grow there is great to hear. I’m also really encouraged by the investment in infrastructure that is being made at HKIA – it will go a long way towards making sure that the performance we’ve seen so far this year is sustained.”
It’s been called the ‘New Silk Road’ – a massive infrastructure programme, led by the Chinese, that will bring together the economies of the Asia-Pacific region through new roads, pipelines, ports, high speed rai links and fibre optic cables. The project – formally known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) – is set to transform the region and create a new economic powerhouse.
A growing pattern
It’s within this context that DHL’s recent addition of another rail connection to Belarus and the establishment of the first regular connection between Shenzhen in China and Minsk has important implications for the air cargo industry. The new route follows a pattern of investment in rail services between the Far East and Europe over recent years, and will make use a rail system that now connects a number of cities in China with Europe. So what does this mean for the air freight business?
A threat to air cargo?
Clearly the new boom in rail links poses a threat to the air cargo industry: rail is quicker than shipping, and can be around 80 per cent of the cost of air. There will be a growing challenge to the air cargo industry in the coming years as customers see the opportunity to take advantage of the lower costs but slower transit times of rail versus the higher costs but faster turnaround of air freight.
An opportunity for all
ASC Cargo‘s CEO Ignazio Coraci comments: “As an industry, we should see vast infrastructure projects like the OBOR as an opportunity for everyone. While it’s clear that the growing capability to move freight by rail could be seen as a threat to the air cargo industry, I believe firmly that there will still be a role in future for the fast turnarounds and efficient service that air cargo offers. The growth that projects such as this will bring to the region with its booming economies, will ultimately benefit everyone – our industry included.”