Improving Freight Movement: Innovative solutions for cargo infrastructure

Innovative solutions for cargo infrastructure

As product life cycles have shortened and demand for rapid delivery has increas­ed, the demand for air cargo transportation has increased significantly over the past few years. Airlines, customs, ground services, air cargo forwarders, brokers, domestic transportation, air cargo terminals, distribution centres and integrated international express services are all part of the air cargo industry’s industrial supply chain. Aircargo facilities are particularly important in the air freight supply chain.

With a vision to become the foremost integrated logistics network in India, Airports Au­th­o­­rity of India Cargo Logistics and Allied Ser­vi­c­es Company Limited (AAICLAS) was incorporated in August 2016. AAICLAS is a 100 per cent wholly owned subsidiary of AAI. At present, the­re are 50-AAI managed airports with dedicated facilities, of which there are 35 cargo terminals and cargo through passenger terminals are available at 15 additional locations. The total bu­ilt-up area is about 0.16 million square me­tres with dedicated annual handling capacity of 3.5 million metric tonnes. The company provi­des specialised cargo as well as logistics services at AAI and public-private partnership airports. In addition, allied services such as in-line hold baggage screening are performed for cargo at AAI airports.

Cargo infrastructure

Currently, AAICLAS caters to international and domestic air cargo operators, express courier cargo terminal operators, centre for perishable terminal cargo operators, in-line hold bagg­age screening systems, regulated ag­ents and cargo hub developers. Go­ing forward, there are plans to set up pack houses for perishables, off airport warehousing and gr­o­und handling operations.

The focus is now on moving towards the eas­tern side and also spreading across the southern parts of the country. New facilities will be made available at the following airports: Ag­ar­­tala, Agra, Bhav­na­gar, Darbhanga, Dibru­garh, Di­ma­pur, Gaya, Gwa­lior, Hollongi, Imphal, Jha­r­su­guda, Jorhat, Lilaba­ri, Mysuru, Pakyong, Pant­nagar, Puducherry, Raj­kot, Salem, Shillong, Shi­m­la, Silchar, Tezpur, Tu­ti­corin, Udaipur and Vado­dara. Further, there are plans to expand car­go facilities at Ahme­da­bad, Amritsar, Bagdo­gra, Coimbatore, Guwahati, In­dore, Kolkata, Ko­zhi­ko­de, Lucknow, Madurai, Pa­tna, Pune, Rai­pur, Sri­nagar, Surat, Trivan­dr­um, Tiruchira­p­palli and Vi­ja­ya­wada airports.

State-of-the-art facilities at cargo terminals include elevated transfer vehicle for expor­ts, au­tomated storage and retrieval systems at Mad­ras International Meenambakkam Air­port and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Air­port. There will also be electronic weighing ma­­chines, a dangerous goods shed, a centre for pe­rishable cargo facility, freight bays/truck do­cks/dock levellers, X-ray machines, in-line hold baggage screening facilities, regulated agents, etc. Besides, the car­go terminal will have str­ong­ro­oms/ cold storages, explosive trace de­vi­ces, me­chanised pallet building stations, cargo handl­ing equipment (forklift/trolleys), CCTVs and web-enabled electronic data interchange-compatible computer systems for online transactions.

Impact of Covid-19

The true strength of cargo in the aviation industry was witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Ci­vil Aviation launched an initiative call­ed Lifeline UDAN to help India fight ag­ainst the pandemic. The ob­j­ective was to ensure the delivery of PPE kits, vaccines, other related ite­ms moved ac­ross the country as well as to ensure last-mile delivery. To this end, a 24×7 control room was set up. The seats on airlines were permitted to put cargo and move. Cargo was air bridged to other countries as well. The complete intense in-house facility was designed and built. In the first phase (April-May 2020), about 940 metric tonnes of equipment was moved. Further, 130 charters carried 158,000 cartons with 1,890 metric tonnes of cargo.  Another challenge was to ensure that the wheels of trade kept moving.

One of the biggest challenges was transporting oxygen cylinders as they needed to be filled first at the nearest stations before being de­livered. As part of the Vaccine Maitri initiative, which was aimed to assist countries in th­e­ir fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, the “Made in India” vaccines reached over 63 co­untries across the world.

The way forward

Engineering cargo needs to move out from India, thus, there is a need to ensure that car­go moves out of the terminal on time. To this end, discussions were held with road tra­ns­port authorities, government agencies and police to not hold cargo destined for delivery at different places.

There is a need to ensure that information flows seamlessly between terminal operators and government agencies at the right time. Hence, timeliness is of essence. In times of cri­ses farm produce should be distri­buted in an organised fashion across the country. In­s­tances of food shortage due to logistic problems were faced by many countries during the pandemic.

Cargo movement is expected to recover by the end of fiscal year 2022-23. In the coming years, incremental capacity is expected to inc­rease by 35-40 per cent. However, this will de­pend on demand, the Make in India initiative, am­ong others. Unlike passenger traffic, cargo is a one-way movement.

Going forward, there are plans to move towards automation and digitalisation. The pl­an is to move out of the paper-based system and enable terminals to clear or deliver cargo via mobile by next year. It is expected that such in­novative automation and digitalisation solutions will improve speed and efficiency of cargo movement across the globe.

Based on presentation by KekuBomiGazder, Chief Executive Officer, AAI Cargo Logistics and Allied Services
Company at a recent India Infrastructure conference