Durban’s air cargo volumes rising despite SA economic woes

17 October 2019

"An exponential rise in air cargo volumes through the Dube TradePort Cargo Terminal is a clear indication that the commercial case for airfreighting cargo from Durban is changing," says Ricardo Isaac, Manager of Dube TradePort Cargo Terminal.

Five years ago a study of airfreight originating in KwaZulu-Natal but being trucked to Gauteng and flown out of  OR Tambo International Airport, showed that the Dube TradePort Cargo Terminal handled a mere 19% of this market. By 2016 the cargo terminal had captured 55% of this market growing 25% year-on-year. In the 2018/19 financial year, the terminal’s volumes increased by another 26% to some 16 000 tons of import and export airfreight, and for 2019/20 volumes are projected to exceed 18 000 tons, driven largely by the arrival of British Airways.

Isaac points out that this increased growth in volumes has been achieved despite the South African economy growing at around 1% and in a global context when airfreight was taking a pounding. The Rands current weakness is currently bolstering Durban exports.

He attributes a lot of this success to freight forwarders who are playing a vital role in this change, as well as success of Durban Direct in attracting international airlines to fly direct to King Shaka International Airport (KSIA). The addition of British Airways, Qatar and Turkish Airlines to Emirates, flying direct to KSIA, provides cargo carrying capacity of over 650 tons per week, and access to 900 destinations.

“There is a big change in the way companies are doing business. There are conscious decisions being made to use airfreight and fly it directly into and out of Durban. As a port city the shipping sector is one of those that have chosen to fly ship spares, supplies and crew directly to Durban. They can pick-up their cargo anytime as the terminal operates a 24-hour service, in addition to this the stringent security at the terminal allows us to reduce the risk of transhipment the loss.” says Isaacs.

The Dube Cargo Terminal and its AiRoad business is currently working with an airline and a national retailer that cuts out two days of road transit, improves planning and security of product. Dube AiRoad transport empty units, to the distribution centre; the retailer packs and seals the units which are then transported to the cargo terminal, scanned and loaded onto an aircraft.

Service levels at the Dube Cargo Terminal top 97% as measured by all airlines. “We have achieved this by training and maintaining staff – 90% of staff has International Air Transport Association (IATA) diplomas and other certificates – and with a 20 minute turnaround time, we are becoming known for our handling capability. On the pricing front we believe our fees are a fair value for money, and we have had zero losses or pilferage since we opened,” says Isaac.

The arrival of British Airways as a major international airline was the culmination of a long period of negotiation that was important for cargo. London is the seat of major freight forwarders in the United Kingdom so no matter where the cargo is destined it is able to be managed via London.

“The fact that since 2016 we have been able to find efficiencies to handle all the additional airlines with the same team and same excellent service standards, is proof of our ability and the training and is definitely a highlight,” says Isaac.

Assisting in the turnaround time is the terminal’s airside automation. It is the only cargo terminal in South Africa to have any automation according to Isaac who says landside automation is in the planning and its RFID technology should be fully integrated into its systems by end 2020. “Transparency is key to customer relations and this will enable customers anywhere, anytime to track their cargo,” he said.

From a cargo perspective, the Dube Cargo Terminal is meeting international airline requirements for doing business. At the recent World Routes gathering in Australia, airlines told airports wanting their business to understand their business, keep costs down, provide a quick turnaround time and automation.