Bahrain, like many other GCC states, has been a natural stopping-off point for airlines travelling to the Far East.
A development masterplan for Bahrain International Airport and a close relationship with the country's new logistics zone heralds a sparkling future for the island state's cargo network.
From a historical perspective, Bahrain, like many of the other GCC states, has been a natural stopping-off point for airlines travelling to the Far East and vice versa.
Now, in the same way that Dubai is seeking to assert its influence in its own right, the state's air facilities are attempting to leverage the regional growth in airfreight, which is currently the fastest growing in the world, according to IATA's latest monthly figures.
It is relatively small compared to other cities in the region but offers all the necessities and has great connections.
With regard to general passenger growth, the global industry body sees average passenger growth in the Middle East rising by around 8.1% per year, whereas global passenger growth is expected to increase by a relatively miserly 5.4%.
Bahrain International Airport, the island state's major facility, has seen recent figures rise above even the regional average. With 39 international airlines plying their services and with 7.3 million passengers and 377,000 tonnes of cargo passing through the airport during 2007, the facility seems set for a stellar future. Looking at the most recent results issued by the facility, it seems clear that passenger movements are the major driver of its success.
In the January-March 2008 period, Bahrain International Airport's passenger movements stood at 18,141, a 31% rise on the same period last year, while cargo movements amounted to 3608, an 8% rise year-on-year.
In terms of overflying movements, cargo growth was up 19% on the same period last year. In April, airport cargo movements increased by 6% on the same period last year, while overflying movements increased by 21%.
But what facilities can the airport provide both for regional and global freight operators? Bahrain Airport has a dedicated 18,000m2 high-level racking warehouse, which, by itself, has a handling capacity of 200,000 tonnes per year. The cargo department offers export sales, transhipment arrangements and inter-airport trucking, and the airport also provides break-bulk facilities for consolidators and bonded warehousing for specialist companies.
In addition, the airport's specialised handling systems allow ULDs to be transported via roller beds and elevated transfer vehicles. Furthermore, the facility's forklift trucks can carry capacity of up to 12 tonnes, and it also has cargo ULD weighing facilities for items up to 30 tonnes.
With regard to specialised storage space, Bahrain International Airport also has access to freezers, chillers and cold rooms to enable the transfer of perishable items and allow the cool chain to remain secure. As well as this, the hub is capable of handling dangerous goods, livestock, radioactive material and valuable goods, and there is also a separate storage area for diplomatic communications.
In terms of airfreight forwarding services, the airport offers both export and import consolidations, discounted rates for bulk movements, associations with most of the major air cargo operators, and a number of scheduling options, plus project work and flight chartering. Bahrain International Airport also provides customs clearance services and assists with customs documentation, the inspection of shipments and the stuffing and de-stuffing of freight containers.
In a recent interview with Air Cargo Middle East & India, one of DHL's top executives, headquartered in Bahrain, was quick to extol the virtues of the airport for its business-friendly approach.
The DHL Aviation fleet in Bahrain currently devotes four DC8s, eight Boeing 1900s, one Ilyushin 76 and one Metro to Middle Eastern operations and the company leases two hangars, together with a flight dispatch and flight operators' area at Bahrain International Airport.
DHL has also made a point of lauding what it terms as the healthy relationship it has with the Bahraini Civil Aviation Authority, together with the country's abundance of local employment and strong international connections. With a fleet of 17 aircraft and 250 vehicles, the giant operates an integrated air and land network.
We are planning to go global with commercial cargo and have alliances with other operators.
"It is relatively small compared to other cities in the region but it offers all the necessities and has great connections for international travel," indicates Allan Baird, the Bahrain-based airline director of the DHL Aviation division.
"We have complemented our strong regional air production platforms with a strong intercontinental platform. This will materialise fully during the years 2008 through 2010. In parallel, we are embarking on another journey of harmonisation and centralisation that will heave us to our next evolutionary level - one virtual global airline," he concludes.
In terms of intermodal transport, the airport is also exceptionally well-serviced. Billing itself as the region's first ‘boutique' logistics zone, the nearby Bahrain Logistics Zone is designed to offer a full range of services tailored to the needs of its new tenants.
Launched on 13th May 2008 by the General Organisation of Sea Ports (GOP), the zone is still completing the application process for companies seeking tenancy. Bahrain Logistics Zone is a customs-free logistics area which will stand alongside the new Khalifa bin Salman port, which aims to provide streamlined multimodal transfer of cargo, and which will have a capacity of 2.5 million TEUs.
"We have already received applications which are far in excess of the number of plots available for lease," says Hassan Ali Al Majed, the director general of GOP. "But we are not interested in merely filling the space - we want to attract tenants who are the best fit for Bahrain Logistics Zone's excellent offering. This includes companies of impeccable standing who offer value-adding logistics services and operations."
Firms that have already won warehousing space in Bahrain Logistics Zone include Bahraini investment company, Edamah, and Danzas AEI Intercontinental, the Bahraini operating arm of DHL's Global Forwarding division. "We are very proud of our selection procedure, and extremely pleased to have demonstrated the great demand in the market for what the Bahrain Logistics Zone has to offer," adds Al Majed.
Major development masterplans for the airport include the US$350 million three-phase expansion and refurbishment programme launched in 2006, which will more than double the size of the terminal building, increase the number of aircraft stands from 46 to 64 and double the number of bridges from seven to 14. There will also be a new air cargo/logistics facility and an aircraft maintenance complex.
Other technological plans include connecting the entire area of cargo operations by wireless network and the introduction of RFID and barcode technology to manage consignments and documents throughout the cargo complex. The project, which started this year and will be completed by 2010, will also increase the airport's passenger capacity to up to 15 million travellers every year.
So, as with the other major international airports in the region, Bahrain is currently overseeing significant changes in the way it will operate freight, and with the presence of some of the world's major logistics operators already confirmed, the outlook for the island state's cargo future is most certainly positive.
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