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Sea-air operators would be naïve or complacent to ignore the competition posed by cheaper modes of transport, particularly as rail freight looks set to develop.

Liana Coyne, director of all-cargo carrier Coyne Airways, said this week that while rail’s time had not yet arrived, interesting developments were likely to unfold over the next few years.

“We, for one, cannot afford to be complacent; there are no cargo types strictly reserved for air,” she said.

“I think we have to be honest with ourselves and cater better for our customers to avoid them switching modes.”

Khalil Lambrabet, director of business development at Dubai Airports, believes operators across transport modes are increasingly building shipper requirements into their business models, including low costs, accessibility, networks, timeliness, and technology.

Ms Coyne, whose firm operates sea-air routes to and from Afghanistan, said shippers looked for more than just the best rate.

“I think it depends on the market and the customer. There has to be a reason other than rate for a customer to consider paying for air, which on average is about 16 times more expensive than sea.”

Sea-air forwarder SAT Albatross’s chief executive, Robin Knopf, believes Dubai is a prime transit point for sea-air, offering greater contrast to traditional pure modes.

“It provides a 50% saving on ocean transit and reduces air costs by 25%-35%,” he said. “By cutting time, saving money and reducing up to 50% CO2 emissions, it makes it [Dubai] attractive all year round.”

Mr Lambrabet says that while operators may feel threatened by additional transport modes, Dubai Airports sees the upturn as more of an opportunity.

“In general, increasing the capabilities, efficiencies and coordination of transport modes is essential for enhancing growth, service and, ultimately, profitability in an environment where global mobility and connectivity grows in importance each passing day,” Mr Lambrabet told The Loadstar.

“From an airport standpoint, we want efficient, effective links from both sea and rail,” he added.

“We have well established sea-to-air connectivity and anticipate that rail links will be developed to optimise connectivity during the next phase of DWC, which opens in 2025.”

To find out more on this topic, come to The Loadstar’s Live Event at TOC Middle East next month in Dubai. Carriers and cargo owners can get free tickets using the code “Loadstar”.

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