Even as cargo demand remains largely stagnant, leading players in the air cargo industry are unanimous that transatlantic traffic has in fact shown growth.
The ongoing talks of a broad free-trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America would fundamentally redraw the map of worldwide trade. Goods and services traded between the EU and US constitute the largest bilateral economic partnership in the world. Daily, they amount to more than 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 million).
The combined GDPs of the US and EU account for approximately half of worldwide economic output and one-third of the global flow of goods. According to EU estimates, a comprehensive free-trade agreement between the EU and US would raise the EU's GDP by one-half percent, or 66 billion euros per year. A similar increase is expected for the US.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data for March which suggests business conditions in the US and Europe provide a reason to be cautiously optimistic for a resumption of growth in the months ahead. Rising export orders, in particular, are expected to give positive momentum to US and European markets.
Leading players in the air cargo industry along the Transatlantic route are unanimous that there is a constant growing demand for air cargo along this trade lane. "The airlines operating to Trans-Atlantic destinations out of Duesseldorf serve these destinations year round and are increasing their capacity to a number of these," said Thomas Schurmann of Dusseldorf Airport.
Currently there are eleven non-stop transatlantic destinations connected with Dusseldorf airport, of which six are in the US. Therefore, the US market, for both imports and exports, is the most important transatlantic market for Duesseldorf. From a cargo perspective, the most important destinations are New York, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles, some of them are served up to three times a day.
Having the nation's largest consumer market coupled with its proximity to key Europe and trans-Atlantic markets gives Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) a logistical advantage. According to Michael Bednarz, manager-air cargo business development, aviation department, PANYNJ,trans atlantic trade has improved and JFK's overall international cargo numbers are up almost 2 percent in the first quarter of 2014 with over 5 percent growth in March alone.
Says Roger Samways of American Airlines Cargo, "Transatlantic capacity continues to grow across the industry. Our own capacity is up by around 8 percent but we have seen year-on-year revenue grow at a faster pace than this. Yields have increased slightly and that’s partly due to the mix of shipments being carried as we sell more high yielding cold chain and express traffic. Our perishable traffic ex Europe (produce and fish) has been particularly strong this year; and all this whilst working to complete our successful integration with US Airways."
American Airlines Cargo serves five major US hubs from Europe (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and, of course, Dallas/Fort Worth) which together provide its customers with gateways to its extensive south and central American network.
In order to meet the requirements of the US- and German carriers serving Trans-Atlantic destinations, Düsseldorf Airport Cargo focuses on processes, facilities and services. "We are running a 24/7 cargo handling operation in order to offer cargo acceptance during the night, which is important for the forwarders and carriers in order to bring their shipments on the next day’s flights. Furthermore we have invested in our security infrastructure, which is not dedicated for Trans-Atlantic traffic only, but to fulfill the strict requirements of the authorities and airlines it is important to offer state of the art security programs and equipment," explains Schurmann.
In an attempt to remain agile on this particular route, American Airlines Cargo has devised a multi layered strategy, centred around ensuring that it has effective global/key account programmes which leverage their most important customer relationships across markets. In the cargo business it’s essential to provide consistent operational performance which meets your customers’ demands; that way they are confident in your service offering.
"As a major player in the transatlantic market, we continue to invest in our product offering. Just this year we’ve expanded our CRT (Cool Room Technology) facility at New York, JFK, had a specialist CRT room built at LHR warehouse and are currently in the process of building what will be the largest pharma facility of its kind in our network at Philadelphia," says Samways. Together, they will help ensure that the airline meets the evolving needs of its customers and target the right mix of traffic (both product and geography) to ensure consistent levels of demand. This includes feeding transatlantic business into Central and South America where the carrier continues to expand its reach.
Schurrman points out two main challenges on the trans-atlantic trade lane. Although the airport has a good coverage of a variety of destinations within the US, there is a shortage in cargo capacity, especially during the winter schedule. This, Schurrman attributes to lower seasonal passenger demand, resulting in reduction of frequencies or a down-sizing of aircraft types. The other challenge is a lack of capacity to very important and increasing markets, especially to Middle- and South-America. "None of these markets are directly connected with Duesseldorf, but the statistics and communication with the forwarding community clearly indicate a demand for direct services to markets, like Brazil, Chile, Peru, etc," he adds.
Other major players along this route are expanding their network. Emirates launched weekly freighter service in April that operates between its home base and Atlanta stopping in Frankfurt on the westbound leg and in Copenhagen on the return to Dubai. AirBridgeCargo also started twice weekly flights to Dallas/Fortworth via Amsterdam in April. In the same month, C.A.L Cargo began operations of a weekly 747-400F run between Moncton and Liege trying to succeed in Canadian seafood exports. In May, British carrier IAG Cargo kickstarted its first scheduled non-stop transatlantic service from London to Austin.
Needless to say while there hasn't been much of a surge in demand across the sector, transatlantic traffic has in fact shown growth.