Air cargo biz seen recovering as exports rise, freight services increase

Air cargo business is showing signs of recovery with a rise in exports and addition of freighter services at major airports.

The cargo handled at Bengaluru airport registered a year on year growth in September – the first time since the imposition of lockdown in March. Delhi and Hyderabad airports handled 93 and 90 per cent of of the levels handled in September 2019, respectively, last month.

“September has been very positive for us as we processed 32,449 metric tonnes of cargo which is 85 metric tonnes or 0.26 per cent higher than September 2019 tonnage signalling an encouraging trend,” said Hari Marar, managing director of Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL).

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, around 80 per cent of domestic and international freight was being carried in belly space of passenger aircraft and the remainder in freighters. Thus, with the reduction in passenger flights, air freight handled on all India basis declined 45 per cent during April-September on a year on year basis. Bengaluru airport has been able to register positive growth during this period led by a 139 per cent increase in freighter movements in September. Additionally, airlines also began carrying cargo in passenger cabins and this contributed to volume growth.

Perishable cargo has been one of the growth drivers and Bengaluru has become the leading centre for pomegranate exports. The introduction of road feeder service to connect cities like Tirupur, Coimbatore, Salem among others has also helped the airport to improve its cargo volume.

Mumbai airport handled 51,977 tonnes of cargo in September which was 18 per cent higher over the August figure. The September volume was 86 per cent of January tonnage and 73 per cent of last September’s figure. Recovery at Mumbai has been slower because of a cap on number of daily flights, but the airport expects a further increase with the introduction of new freighter flights and lifting of restrictions.

India’s exports turned positive for the first time in the fiscal, registering 5.27 per cent growth in September. Manufacturing activity in the country too, is on the rise leading to increased freight volumes. Smaller airports, including Guwahati, Patna, Srinagar and Varanasi, have also saw gains in cargo movement last month.

“Government policy interventions as well as various initiatives put in by the entire air cargo supply chain are helping the cargo industry witness recovery over the past few weeks. Calibrated unlocking of various business activities, coupled with the focus on Atma Nirbhar Bharat, is expected to sustain the air cargo tonnage,” said a group spokesperson og GMR, which runs Delhi and Hyderabad airports.

“At Bengaluru airport, the exports are currently growing at around 8 per cent. As economic activities are expected to return to normal levels in the coming months with the easing of restrictions, we believe this will be sustained growth. In the next 18 months, we expect annual cargo volume to reach pre-Covid-19 levels, post which we expect to see further growth,” Marar said.