Vizag’s scope of becoming a bustling international air cargo hub still seems to be a distant dream. Often considered as an important sector for economic growth, the air cargo terminal in the port city of Visakha-patnam has yet to realize its true potential.
With industries like Textile, Pharma, marine and high end products (like diamonds), the city seems to have all the necessary requirements for a flourishing air cargo industry.
Vizag’s Custom clearance is often lauded for its efficient and seamless clearance. It is informed that majority of the shipments from here are cleared on the same day while it takes an average of two days in cities elsewhere.
So with these advantages why has the international air cargo industry in Vizag still not caught up?
‘Vizag needs more direct international connections for the air cargo industry to thrive’ said Mr Samir Mankad, CEO, GSEC Limited (O&M operators at the Vizag airport).
Vizag is currently connected (directly) to 4 international destinations with the latest addition being to Bangkok by Air Asia. The other direct connections are Singapore operated by Silk Air, Kuala Lumpur operated by Air Asia and Dubai (via Hyderabad) operated by Air India.
Sri Lankan Air recently shut its operations from Vizag citing lack of passenger traffic. The airline however was a major carrier for international air cargo. ‘Sri Lankan air used to carry significant amount of cargo from here. However now with them ceasing operations from Vizag we are counting on more international direct connections’ said Mr Mankad.
Thus with limited international air connectivity, exporters and importers are left with the only other option i.e. of bonded cargo – Cargo that is transshipped from other major domestic airports internationally.
‘Domestic carriers have much better capacity in the belly of the air craft. However, that is always not always a good option for perishables as its time sensitive’ says Mr Mankad.
Also many exporters would like to ship their cargo in one consignment rather than split it into different shipments due to limitations in space in the belly of the aircraft.
Industry insiders say that Vizag loses out on 2200 tonnes of air cargo per month to Hyderabad. With such volumes one wonders if the city should have a dedicated freighter aircraft coming to the city.
Vizag’s airport director Mr G Prakash Reddy opines that for the air cargo industry to gain traction the answer is not necessarily in getting more international direct connections. ‘If the air cargo numbers are sustainable why isn’t a freighter brought in’? asks the Airport director. He states that for airlines, passenger demand will always be the number one driver for flying to a destination rather than cargo.
‘We are far away from that. ‘There is no question of a freighter till we reach a tipping point.
Firstly one has to fully utilize the available infrastructure and space than jumping to bigger options says Mr Mankad.
Agrees a cargo official from one of the international airlines, ‘A freighter aircraft can typically handle anywhere between 70-100 tonnes of cargo however Vizag has still not reached that capacity’.
It is here that the issue primarily lies wherein the industry blames lack of adequate infrastructure (see table) at the airport while the operators at the terminal say that industry isn’t utilizing the currently available facilities.
GSEC, which earlier operated from a small place on the highway has, since last year, moved into a 674 sq meters space in the International air cargo terminal at the airport.
He asserts that their facility has all the necessary infrastructure to address the current demand. ‘Additional space is not at all an issue. However, companies need to first utilize the available space’ says Mr Mankad.
GSEC has seen a stupendous rise in volumes since their move to the international airport cargo terminal. International cargo handled has risen from 77.94 MT to 562.91 MT in the past one year.
As of date the top 3 exports (in terms of tonnage) from Vizag airport include Textiles/Pharma and Diamonds while for imports the top 3 imports are Textiles, Engineering goods and pharmaceuticals.