The late former Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, is most closely associated with the phrase “All politics is local” – a saying he used when the Boston-area Congressman’s seat was challenged in 1982 by a Massachusetts lawyer who had financed most of his campaign with money from Texas oil interests. When O’Neill manipulated the local Boston media to convince voters that his support came from local interests and not those located in a far-off place, he used the expression to explain the winning strategy.
The Airforwarders Association has been conducting outreach sessions to understand better the challenges affecting members on a local level. After successful events in Chicago and Los Angeles created an enhanced understanding of airport congestion and access delays in those cities, we recently decided to travel to Boston, where the seemingly noble spirit of local politics thrives, but may also be hampering air cargo growth in and outside the city.
The Air Cargo Club of New England, along with Boston Logan landlord Massport, assisted the AfA in bringing together a diverse group of industry leaders from throughout the region. Two panels focused on the current state of the global and local air cargo industry, as well as Logan-related infrastructure concerns. A lively discussion ensued, revealing intriguing facts and provocative questions.
For the passenger, today’s Boston Logan has improved immensely from the days-of-old terminals, thanks to an ongoing renovation project that now features new domestic concourses and a refurbished international facility, coming soon. The airport is the 18th busiest in the United States, serving more than 33 million passengers last year. Virtually all U.S. domestic carriers serve Logan and, thanks to increased international expansion, direct service flights have been established to Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
But for cargo interests, the outlook is not as beneficial, despite the facility ranking as the 10th busiest cargo airport in the country, with in excess of 686,000 tons of cargo moving through the facility annually, including seafood and other goods. Jutting out into Boston Harbor and hemmed in by dense urban development, Logan cannot add any more real estate to its property, which is often seen as an impediment to the airport meeting its full cargo volume potential. But this may be just part of the story. During last week’s gathering, the dark reality set in that, unlike passengers, freight has apparently become lost in Logan’s recent redevelopment plan.
As airlines continue to come to Logan, many probably share the anticipation of not only serving passengers, but cargo interests as well. Unfortunately, two new international carriers calling on Boston are restricted to passenger loads only, since a handler at the meeting claimed that the airport lacked the properly sized facilities to accommodate their additional cargo. This limitation not only limits an airline’s revenue potential, but also trading opportunities for other countries with the Boston community. Further, the restriction is alarming as it creates the ripple effect of limiting activity within the whole air cargo community.
Despite the increased international expansion and future promise at Logan, larger freight forwarding interests in Boston will not replace New York-JFK as a primary consolidation point for cargo anytime soon. While JFK has lost volume over the past few years, it still ranks as one of the three largest gateway airports for cargo in the country. But for smaller shipments and forwarders wishing to increase their New England presence, Logan’s new international flights are essential and should be accessible to all of them. Can these forwarders find and afford the space nearby to make its use worthwhile?
One local forwarder suggested that Massport could develop an unused warehouse currently on airport property to increase cargo handling space and thus handle more shipments. Since cargo space is at such a premium at Logan, it’s hard to imagine that Massport would not seek to develop this unused space for increased cargo handling. Certainly, with corporate giants such as GE relocating to Boston, such a move would signal Massport’s desire to increase both passenger and cargo throughput for the region. After all, as with many airport real estate interests, this independently run public authority must maximize returns for its primary shareholders – the people of Massachusetts and the business community of Boston.
To many of us, air cargo is attractive and exciting, but to industry outsiders, it remains a mysterious necessity. The truth is that airfreight is a vital part of many airline and freight forwarder business models, and we must continue to interact with Massport to find solutions to keep air cargo moving and expanding through the port of Boston. Protecting the cargo space presently available at Logan, while ensuring our industry is in mind when considering future provisioning of facilities, is essential. Politicians throughout the country know that, for a community to thrive, airports must always encourage new entrants, avoid congestion and overcome obstacles, even the local ones in Tip O’Neill’s home town.
Join us for networking and discussion of logistics innovation at Air Cargo World’s new ELEVATE 2016 Conference, Oct. 10, in Miami.