January 21, 2013
Credit: Credit: Emirates SkyCargo
Douglas Nelms Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The Middle East air cargo industry continues to be the bright spot in an otherwise depressed worldwide cargo market, which as a whole dropped 1% for the 12-month period ending last September. The Middle East market, in contrast, has remained relatively robust, growing 8.2% during 2011 and 14.1% for the first 10 months of 2012, according to Brad Hart, Boeing's regional director for cargo marketing. Its growth is projected to continue at 5.7% per annum over the next 20 years, particularly as the region continues its movement toward economic liberalization.
While the Middle East itself is not a large origin-and-destination market, it sits astride the fabled “Silk Road,” the crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa for trade goods moving not only east and west, but north and south.
This hub activity is becoming particularly significant with the growth of “on-demand” goods such as telecommunications equipment, which in turn is forcing a change in supply-chain management to meet the evolving market.
The Middle East is also home to three of the world's fastest-growing international air carriers—Dubai-based Emirates, Doha-based Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways—all of which are aggressively promoting their cargo and passenger markets, along with the home-base airports that are spending millions to support that expansion.
The passenger operations of all three airlines are showing rapid growth, and they are ordering newer and bigger aircraft. These procurements relate directly to increased freight operations, since belly cargo accounts for about 70% of these airlines' total freight.
Emirates is the biggest of the “Big Three,” ranking second in tons carried among the world's airlines. Emirates operates Boeing 777F, 747-400F and 747ERF freighters, most leased from Dubai Aerospace, but it can put 10-12 metric tons of cargo in the bellies of its Airbus A380s when operated with full passenger loads.
The carrier has had an aggressive global expansion program, particularly to the Americas, Europe and Africa, according to Ram Menen, divisional senior vice president for cargo. He notes that Brazil, in particular, is a growing market for Emirates, which now offers service to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The airline launched 15 new routes in 2012, with the latest being Dec. 10 to Phuket, Thailand, giving it a total of 128 destinations.