Singapore’s Coolport grew last year and expects to grow again this year, not just in terms of the volumes moved but in terms of services offered and the reach of its operations.
As a temperature-controlled facility, perishables and, increasingly, pharmaceuticals are its business. Topping out a list of products it moves is temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical and biomedical products; freshly cut flowers; fresh fruits and vegetables; chilled or frozen meat and meat products; dairy foods; live, chilled or frozen seafood; and confectionary, including chocolates.
Pharmaceuticals might headline the list of what is moved and generate startling levels of growth, but by volume they are only a small part of the total.
“SATS Coolport handled about 20,000 tonnes of pharmaceuticals in 2014, a growth of nearly 30.4% year-on-year,” Ronald Yeo, senior vice president of cargo services at SATS told Asia Cargo News.
This appears to be the growth spurt which commonly occurs ahead of a period of consolidation.
“We note that pharmaceutical companies are becoming most cost-conscious, but we believe there will also be continued growth as ’pharmerging’ markets such as India exhibit good growth potential, and SATS Coolport is in a good geographical position to capitalize on this,” Yeo added.
This signals a possible new departure for the facility. Up to now, its primary market has been perishables coming in from the South West Pacific heading to Europe. Roughly a third of this then goes to local businesses, meaning between 60 to 70% of its throughput is transhipped.
Being situated within the Free Trade Zone of Changi International Airport works in the facility’s favour.
Customers who are transhipping goods do not have to pay duties but get direct airside access, allowing cargo shipments to be constantly moved within a secure cold chain. And as a value-added service for customers, SATS Coolport also provides trucking delivery services.
Such a rate of growth for pharma, even though it might not be the same going forward, makes what’s happening in the rest of the market seem paltry by comparison, even if it really is not.
SATS Coolport handled more than 241,000 tonnes of products last year. “Compared to a year ago, its throughput grew about 4.2% in 2014,” Yeo told Asia Cargo News. “The outlook for airfreight perishable tonnage remains positive.”
It remains to be seen if that growth will add to the roster of more unusual cargo that Coolport has moved in the five years since it opened. This includes Colombian “super” roses, birds’ nest, crocodile skin, webfoot octopus, live turtles and goldfish.
There is going to be no stopping on other fronts though, either domestic or international.
Already established as a premium and world-class perishable handling centre, the facility is now in the process of developing distinctive niches, according to Yeo.
“We are always looking at services that create value for our customers, and intend to develop a more comprehensive suite of services related to cold chain airfreight handling,” he said. There was no hint as to what these might involve.
Not surprisingly, though, there is a certain emphasis and interest in what can be done to support the pharma sector and to expand geographical reach.
“Moving forward, we intend to leverage the extensiveness of SATS’ network in the region to create secure end-to-end cold chain capabilities within SATS’ network of subsidiaries and joint ventures,” said Yeo.
India has a part to play, too. Along with Air India, it is working on a Coolport for Bangalore, one of India’s economic hot spots and the centre of its computer and software industries. India has tremendous growth potential in its air cargo sector, the company believes, pointing out the recent substantial increase in the volumes of perishables being handled.
“Since 2010, AISATS in Bangalore has witnessed a year-on-year increase in CAGR of 37.9%,” said Yeo. “There is an urgent need to have adequate infrastructure to support the government’s plan to promote and grow the air cargo industry in India.”
When completed, the AISATS Coolport will be an added link in SATS’ cold-chain network, reinforcing the strategy of enhancing connectivity for SATS’ customers across Asia, he added. It will also provide a secure end-to-end handling solution for perishables and pharmaceuticals moving within SATS’ cold-chain network.
While all of this is good, we are unlikely to see expansion of the facility at Changi, Coolport’s home base. “There is scope for expansion from its current size of 8,000 square metres within the same location but it is not imminent, as perishables being fast moving in nature do not take up much floor area,” explained Yeo.
By Michael Mackey
Southeast Asia Correspondent | Bangkok