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A Qatar aircraft on DFW's tarmac

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is set to open a 40,000sq ft cold chain facility in June, operated by AirLogistix, which it hopes will spur a growing perishables and pharmaceutical trade.

Executive vice president for global strategy and development John Ackerman told The Loadstar the decision followed strong 2016 volumes for an airport that, until very recently, had no cargo strategy at all.

Last year, DFW recorded a 12.7% year-on-year increase in cargo volumes to 752,000 tons from 668,000 tons in 2015.

“It was the first year we truly turned our efforts to cargo,” said Mr Ackerman. “We also witnessed cargo carriers demonstrating the value and faith they hold in DFW with increased frequencies and new services.”

In the past 12 months, Qatar Airways Cargo and Quantas Freight have both launched new weekly services linking DFW with their global networks, which Mr Ackerman attributed to a strong economy in the North Texas region.

“Economic growth in the region has led the US over the last several years,” he added.

DFW has handled perishables and pharmaceuticals for several years, but Mr Ackerman described the existing systems as substandard and said the new facility would address this.

“American Airlines has been using DFW as a transhipment hub for pharmaceuticals and perishables out of Santiago for some time, but this has been bellyhold rather than main deck cargo,” he said. “The new facility is part of a long-term strategy and will cater to increasing volumes.

“And it seems AirLogistix has already signed up a partner that wants a significant portion of the available space. Fortunately, the facility has been developed in such a way that there is room for expansion.”

Mr Ackerman said part of the gateway’s cargo strategy involved analysing approximately 600 different tradelanes to assess where DFW had a significant advantage over other American airports, with 30% throwing up opportunities.

“Many US gateways have sought to replicate the Miami model and then attempted to pilfer its business in the process, but not us,” he said. “Fish from Chile to Asia is a good market for us; Europe-bound South American flowers not so much.”

He also noted that while DFW’s 2016 volumes had been affected by diminished fish stocks out of Chile, its market exposure in the region remained quite small so the impact had been limited.

“Conversely, increased volumes of Norwegian fish destined for Asia did, however, benefit us,” said Mr Ackerman.

“Alongside this, Marine Harvest [one of the largest fish exporters in the world] announced intentions to set up a processing plant in the DFW region that will be a boom for volumes from both Chile and Norway.”

Away from the cold chain, Mr Ackerman said that non-US companies had been turning to DFW to gain exposure in a region, which he said had seen significant economic diversification.

“Oil and gas, the sector most commonly associated with Texas, was the only one in which we did not see growth in 2016,” he said. “It accounts for just 3-4% of our business, with tech representing one of our biggest markets – tech is not just for California.”

Communications equipment (18%), industrial goods (11%) and electrical equipment (11%) were the top performing verticals for DFW in 2016, with communications equipment making up more than a quarter (26%) of total import volumes.

“We are also growing in transhipment volumes, and there has been a significant upturn in cross-border trade,” said Mr Ackerman. “Mexico is a major trading partner for us, so anything that would hamper this would be damning.”

However, he remained confident that political leaders would resolve any issues surrounding trade issues between the US and Mexico.

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