Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is proceeding full steam ahead with its strategy to become a serious contender for cargo traffic in the US.
The airport recently signed a memorandum of understanding with French airport operator Groupe ADP to cooperate in developing the movement of goods between DFW and Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, covering goods such as perishables, pharmaceuticals and luxury items.
“We’re relatively new to this environment and thought this was a great opportunity,” said John Ackerman, executive vice president of global strategy and development at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, in an interview during The International Air Cargo Association’s biennial Air Cargo Forum. “It’s still in its infancy and will take a while to flesh out. Paris is a large cargo hub so we think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”
According to Ackerman, DFW gets many requests for MoUs or sister airport agreements but is being more selective in who it does these with.
“We typically say no, because what we’ve found is that with a lot of them, there’s a signing ceremony and it all sounds great, but afterwards there’s not much there,” he said. “We generally want to have service on both ends because we think there’s pretty limited value if that’s not the case. We made an exception about a year and a half ago when we signed an MoU with Zhengzhou Airport because we’re trying to develop service between the two airports, given their investment in Cargolux. We’re still hopeful that that will happen.”
As part of its new cargo strategy, DFW opened a cold chain facility in the summer of 2017. The original operator, AirLogistix USA, was acquired by dnata before the launch of the 37,000-square-foot facility.
“The market response has been fantastic,” said Ackerman. “We’re delighted to have a partner which has a worldwide reputation for quality. It’s been so successful that they’re already looking for ways to expand that facility because it’s already starting to get full.”
He added that the airport is working on a plan to redevelop, reconfigure and optimize some of its existing cargo facilities, which are coming off lease and will be under the airport’s control again.
DFW is also taking the additional step of creating its own pharma community under the International Air Transport Association’s Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics programme. Ackerman expects to receive the certification in the first quarter of 2019.
“First we had to include enough of each type of company to satisfy the requirements,” he said. “We’ve completed that and we’ve now done the initial training. Now we’re in a period where the companies have to go back and do some internal work. In a couple of months’ time, IATA will come in and carry out a final inspection to make sure everything’s up to the standards, and then we’ll have the second CEIV Pharma community in North America.”
As a sign of support and commitment, the airport paid for part of the training out of its own pocket. Ackerman said that when he and his team went to the partners and asked them to invest in this, he felt that it was important to show them that the airport was investing alongside them.
“It’s a pretty significant commitment for the companies,” he said. “On top of the fee that they have to pay, they have to send staff to training and there’s an ongoing investment in all kinds of resources because they’re holding their business to a higher standard.”
Ackerman is convinced that this represents a significant move forward for the airport, which until recently did not have a focused strategy for the cargo business.
“There are other American airports that are generally more well-known but there’s actually a huge gap in the centre of the country,” he said. “We think that something like CEIV will show how serious we are about this and will also get people to try us. We have to raise awareness that we have these capabilities and that we’re a legitimate contender for their business.”
Dallas wasn’t alone in not placing much emphasis on cargo. As landlords to the various cargo businesses, many US airports have traditionally not been too directly involved.
“It’s easy if you’re the landlord and only care about receiving your rent, but I think that’s a very simple model,” said Ackerman. “We have found that we need to take a more active interest in cargo. We’ve done that and now all the different members of the community come together on a regular basis. That wasn’t happening before.”
While DFW may have lagged behind the rest of the world in the past, it is moving quickly to address that by taking more control of the air freight business and getting more directly involved in the day-to-day operations.
“Three years ago, we hardly knew anything about cargo so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for us,” Ackerman said. “The perishables facility and the CEIV community have happened just within roughly a one-and-a-half-year period, and we’re working on some things that we’ll be ready to share probably early next year as well.”
Ackerman is confident that when the market looks at what he and his team are doing, people will see that the airport is thinking differently than most in the country and will want to invest in DFW.
“The bad news is that US airport cargo operations are generally perceived of by the rest of the world as not very high-quality and the reputation for handling isn’t perhaps as strong as Europe or Asia,” he said. “We think the good news is that if we’re very active and execute a proper strategy, we can do something most other US airports aren’t doing and that will give us a competitive advantage.”
By Jeffrey Lee
Asia Cargo News | Toronto