© Alexey Novikov

With a fresh infusion of money from Ottawa, Edmonton International Airport is ramping up preparations for a massive expansion of its cargo infrastructure.

While this project is two to three years from fruition, the airport is currently doubling parking positions for widebody freighters.

Work crews have been pouring concrete at the airport for a new cargo apron to accommodate six widebody freighters and work is on schedule for completion in October, said Alex Lowe, the airport’s manager, global network development (cargo).

Included is a new hydrant system for fuelling freighter aircraft, as well as new cargo infrastructure, such as additional cooler capacity.

The new cargo apron more than doubles Edmonton’s parking capacity for freighters to 11 positions, which reflects the robust development of freighter activity. Predictions of a slowdown this year have proved unfounded, Mr Lowe said.

“Growth just continued,” he saidd, adding that this increase had been systemic rather than sporadic, outlasting spikes like the shipment of vaccines and PPE in the pandemic.

The airport clocked up 5% growth last year, over 2020 (and 12.8% higher than 2019), and the first half of this year saw growth at about 20%. Large incumbent operators, such as Cargojet and DHL, have increased capacity in response to demand.

A major driver of throughput has been Hainan Airlines, which has been serving the airport three times a week with scheduled charter flights using B787Fs. After a temporary hiatus, the operation has been in full swing in recent months.

Typically, second-tier airports like Edmonton tend to be used as transit points for freighter flights serving major hubs to drop off or pick up cargo and perhaps refuel, but the Hainan Air 747s actually turn around at the Canadian airport, having good loads in both directions.

Exports to Asia have been strong, fuelled by a mix of perishables and e-commerce as well as energy products. A good portion of this originates in the province of Alberta, which has seen economic activity ramp up with both new and traditional energy business, food products and pharmaceuticals.

E-commerce accounts for the lion’s share of imports from China on the Hainan Air flights. A sizeable chunk is for the Canadian market, but the airline also carries cargo to the US and Latin America that moves out of Edmonton by air or road.

The airport authority has these markets as well as the Canadian economy in its sights with its expansion plans for a new cargo area on a greenfield parcel of land within the perimeter. It has developed new cargo facilities whenever growth was approaching capacity, but the new scheme is considerably more ambitious.

The idea is to develop 2,000 acres or about 60 million sq ft of logistics infrastructure, over time. The project is now moving forward, after the federal government announced C$100m (US$76m) in funding through its National Trade Corridors Fund.

“Cargo and logistics play a major role in our region’s economic growth and development. Increasing air capacity and global market access for exports and trade opportunities is a global game-changer. It drives the growth of small and medium enterprises in Alberta and the rest of Canada, which creates jobs and spurs investment,” said Tom Ruth, the airport’s president and CEO.

“The government of Canada’s investment into EIA will help accelerate our plans to position the Edmonton metropolitan region as a key multimodal global logistics hub and vital trade corridor for Canada. This hub will be transformational.”

Mr Lowe said the first build-out would take up to three years. There have not been any announcements about specific developments, but the first major project would be the establishment of a solar farm – sustainability is one of the key elements of the project, which aims to be close to carbon-neutral, he said.

The plans for the new logistics area extend beyond air cargo. They call for a multimodal hub that leverages air, road and rail links to the Canadian market as well as the main container gateways in Vancouver and Prince Rupert. There is some container traffic from Asia that already flows through Prince Rupert to Edmonton for breakdown and distribution, but Mr Lowe sees scope for more.

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.