Airport Choice Factors for Non-Integrated Cargo Airlines

John Gardiner, Loughborough University

Recent forecasts predict that the current number of all-cargo aircraft worldwide will more than double over the next 20 years, spurred on by trends such as reduced passenger belly hold capacity on short and medium haul routes and a growing recognition of the profit potential of cargo by airlines. At the same time the number of airports looking to attract cargo airlines is increasing leading to a greater number of location decisions being made by cargo airlines and more competition between airports for these services. For the increasing number of secondary and industrial airports in particular, a detailed understanding of the needs of freighter operators at airports is crucial in order to be able to compete effectively for a growing number of freighter services which have traditionally favoured the major gateway airports.

This thesis utilises an international survey of both cargo airlines and airports, in-depth interviews with cargo airlines and airports, and a case study focusing on an airline choosing an airport, with the aim of advancing the limited current knowledge on the factors influencing non-integrated cargo airlines’ choice of airport. In particular the thesis focuses on identifying the importance of these factors in parallel with an assessment of the methods used by airports to attract cargo airlines in order to recommend improvements to airport marketing to air cargo carriers and to identify characteristics that airports must display in order to increase their chances of attracting cargo airlines.

The conclusion of this thesis is that cargo airline location decisions are ultimately profit motivated with a trade-off between potential revenue, manifested from the likely demand for a service at a particular airport, and the costs associated directly and indirectly with operating to that airport. However location decisions are not made in isolation and it was found that the location of freight forwarders and other airlines was an important influence on cargo airlines. As a result of the research 10 airport characteristics were identified as advantageous in terms of attracting cargo airlines, these including direct highway access to the main areas of demand, a freight forwarder presence, a positive reputation for cargo established over time, and a fully operational cargo terminal. In exploring the implications of this thesis on airport marketing, it was identified that more emphasis needs to be placed on promoting demand and ultimately ‘success’ needs to be appraised over the long term.

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One Response to Airport Choice Factors for Non-Integrated Cargo Airlines

  1. Emma Tameside says:

    Thanks for this writeup John, I’ve also noticed that airports are aggressively marketing for cargo business, laying down significant changes to the way ground crew is structured. I think one of the most cited reasons for a cargo airline’s choice of airport, is the road, rail and shipping connections that will allow them to offer their customers less logistics downtime. For example, air cargo that lands at an airport that offers a busy rail link might only have to warehouse the goods for one day max, while relying on standard A roads and motorways means a dedicated logistics company must come and collect the goods, before driving them cross-country. I think customers are keen to only step onto the road (so to speak) at the last stage of goods transport, and prefer air, ship and rail links to manage the majority of the distance.

    It’s only natural that cargo airlines would aim to find profitable airport partners, given then time is essentially money in this industry and we all have shareholders to answer to in the end.

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