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Edmonton International Airport has lost its international passenger flights twice in the past 12 months, but that has not stopped the growth of its cargo traffic.
The Canadian airport is setting the wheels in motion to boost capacity by increasing space for freighter parking and for temperature-sensitive shipments.
One of the measures taken by the federal government to slow the spread of the second wave of Covid-19 was reducing international passenger flights to four gateways – Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal – last month.
Air France KLM had resumed flights between Amsterdam and Edmonton in September, after the initial lockdown early in 2020, but then had to suspend the service a second time.
Losing the direct connection again was a blow to Edmonton, not least of all for the pharma traffic. However, operators managed to fill the gap.
KLM routed some traffic over other gateways, while the integrators and other all-cargo carriers stepped up their presence in Edmonton. It was chiefly this increase in freighter lift, especially from the integrators, that allowed pharmaceuticals and other time-sensitive traffic to continue flowing between the city and Amsterdam, said Alex Lowe, the airport’s manager of cargo business development.
Freighter landings at Edmonton were up 16% last year, and cargo charters surged 214%.
“We had additional freighters from Asia, the Middle East and South America,” Mr Lowe reported.
This boosted Edmonton’s cargo result. While passenger business was down, cargo throughput climbed 7.5% last year – “2020 was one of our strongest years ever,” said Mr Lowe.
And all indicators point to further growth in throughput, particularly with the strength of e-commerce demand, which is creating a need for more warehouse capacity, especially for fast-moving packages, he said.
The airport also needs more space for freighters. Later this year, work is expected to start on creating 47,000 sq metres of additional apron space, which can accommodate two large freighters and allow the airport to park five widebodies simultaneously.
The apron expansion is part of a broader package that also includes a hydrant fuelling system for cargo refuelling, replacing the current truck-based system, and the addition of 1,400 sq metres of cold storage space. The latter will more than double Edmonton’s cooler capacity, bringing it to almost 2,000 sq metres. The existing Fresh Cargo Centre was established in 2018.
“Our cargo operations have grown immensely in the past five years, especially during the pandemic, and we urgently need to expand to position the Edmonton metropolitan region as a major cargo hub,” explained Myron Keehn, vice-president of air service and business development. Construction is expected to be completed within two years.
Half of the C$36m (US$28.7m) bill for the project comes out of federal government coffers, under the National Trades Corridor Fund, with the other C$18m paid by the airport.
Capacity has also grown outside the airport’s perimeter. Last year ,Amazon opened a 1.2m sq ft fulfilment centre, supplementing its two warehouses near the airport.
Meanwhile, on-airport the shipper base is growing. The latest addition is WeFaces Technology, an Asia-based manufacturer of LED technology, which entered a strategic partnership with the airport in mid-February. Edmonton will be home to its new North American HQ, which will include facilities for research and development as well as production. The company aims to begin manufacturing solar lighting products for international export by next year.
Locating at the airport allows the company to take advantage of FTZ designation, which covers the entire airport. The local shipper base has kept expanding in recent years, including a fast-growing cluster of pharmaceuticals firms. It’s likely this will keep up the pressure on the airport authority to add capacity.