By Alex Hawkes
Dubai Cargo Village has played a pivotal role in the development of airfreight operations in the United Arab Emirates. Close to becoming one of the top ten biggest cargo hubs in the world, Ali Al Jallaf, vice president of Dubai Cargo Village, reflects on the centre's overwhelming success.
Its sometimes easy to forget how young the regional air cargo industry actually is. Dubai Cargo Village (DCV) is for many a long established pillar of the industry, situated familiarly adjacent the airport, it has always seemed home to the leading regional and international players. First opened in July 1991, the facility is still a relative infant compared to European counterparts, but the accelerated growth it has experienced since has allowed for a mature stature beyond its years.
"In the late 1980s many airports and airlines in the region began looking at air cargo with a more acute focus. With no specific management for cargo operations and attention predominantly fixed on the passenger side, a change occurred in this period that saw airlines take a different approach to the sector," illustrates Ali Al Jallaf, vice president, cargo unit, Dubai Cargo Village.
"Airlines developed special management for cargo and operations began to segregate from the passenger side. The market demand was there and we opened with a handling capacity of 230,000 tonnes," he continues.
What we previously handled in one year when Dubai Cargo Village first opened, today we can handle in 20 days - Ali Al Jallaf.
Easily put in retrospect, last year the facility handled 1.5 million tonnes throughout the course of the year. An impressive figure, it is amplified by the fact that capacity at the time was only 750,000 tonnes - demonstrating both the level of demand and the lengths taken to accommodate it.
"We were over capacity by roughly 100,000 tonnes last year," reflects Al Jallaf. "I look at Dubai and believe it must be put in a different respect in terms of growth compared to other countries. The Emirate has the ability to invest and create new things, we must have the flexibility and infrastructure to keep up with the pace."
The hustle and bustle on display to anyone who enters the village is a clear indication that growth is not close to slowing down just yet. This year has seen the hub continue to facilitate demand, namely though Dnata's presence in the Dubai Airport Free Zone and the impending completion of the Cargo Mega Terminal.
"Roughly three months ago, Dnata relocated a segment of business to the airport free zone, which gave us some relief in some of the dealings we had," notes Al Jallaf.
"Completion of the Cargo Mega Terminal is due for the end of this year. It was delayed by six months, but that is to be expected given the commonality of construction delays in Dubai due to the shortages. We are lucky it was only six months but I think we are now starting to see the cargo village have the facilities to match the growth," he smiles.
The Cargo Mega Terminal seems much the future shape of DCV, Emirates SkyCargo and the Middle East airfreight industry as a whole. Despite only half operational, a tour of the facility is an enlightening experience. Automation still remains a relatively unexplored option for cargo handling facilities in the region making the terminal a pioneering landmark - it is currently an 85% automated operation.
Expected to expand to a 1.2 million handling capacity by the end of the year, the Cargo Mega Terminal will play home to the rapidly expanding Emirates SkyCargo. It is a captivating sight to watch the lifts exchange cargo to the second floor, which is currently capable of holding 10,000 small pallet positions. With the latest screening devices on show, alongside extensive cold storage facilities, the terminal seems well equipped to deal with future market trends.
"We have three screening machines each equipped to deal with large sized pallets. Plans are in place next year for an upgrade that will see every item entering the cargo village being screened," highlights Al Jallaf.
Indeed, the once familiar face of the Cargo Village looks set to undergo some major cosmetic surgery next year. Adjacent to the new terminal stands a large building that is to become a car park, offices, shopping mall and the main access point to the hub via a direct overhead walkway to the mega terminal. This in combination with the enhanced screening policy seems to indicate an increased focus towards security across the village.
It is no surprise to learn DCV is once again setting a standard for the rest of the region's hubs to follow. The premises first became ISO certified almost 12 years ago, becoming one of the first facilities in the Middle East to achieve such a status. Helping to attract leading global players, Al Jallaf is certain they have played a significant part in improving regional standards. "When it was first opened, the cargo village was not just an opportunity for the airport, airlines and respective authorities, but an opportunity for all freight forwarders, local companies and international companies. It gave a boom to the industry and changed the image of transportation in the region," he says.
"During this period, a number of local companies merged with global ones, with the size of the cargo village encouraging other companies from around the world to come use Dubai as a hub. The connection between local freight forwarders and international ones grew immensely," he adds.
Evolving alongside the hub, many such companies are still evident today. An earnest point, Al Jallaf remarks on the range of business size this encompasses. From the smallest of local freight forwarder to the global mammoth of Emirates SkyCargo, Dubai Cargo Village has witnessed strong business growth deriving from varying parts of the globe.
"What we previously handled in one year when Dubai Cargo Village first opened, today we can handle in 20 days. This is demonstrated by the huge jump we have made from being initially ranked 64th in the world to our current status of 13th," Al Jallaf beams."There are many factors behind this growth. Dubai becoming a hub for many airlines has of course helped, in particular the huge success of Emirates Airlines. Economics has also played a large role, transforming Dubai into a leading example for the rest of the Middle East, and ultimately contributing to the success of the cargo village."
Modesty aside, the management and technology of the facilities are undoubtedly as strong a reason as any for the hub's rise. Currently home to around 85 freight forwarders, at least 110 airlines and roughly 40 airline offices, warehouse facilities are available to handle any type of goods or products, including perishables and hazardous materials.
Gaining recognition worldwide, the market and trade lanes served by DCV have grown as explosively as the hub itself. Initially targeting Africa as a source of business, focus soon turned to the Russian markets and then onto Iran. Today, it is a global platform, embracing Europe, the Far East and much more. "A lot depends on Emirates Airlines and where they are able to distribute - when they open a destination it becomes the use of the Cargo Village as well," says Al Jallaf demonstrating the close bond between the airline and the hub.
Despite of its phenomenal growth, many industry insiders have pointed towards the Dubai World Central Project as a potential replacement for Dubai Cargo Village - some believing it could end the hub's role as leading focal point for the regional airfreight sector. Although aware that the forthcoming project is likely to have an impact on the village's operations, Al Jallaf is optimistic the two will not clash.
"I think for the next ten years Dubai Cargo Village will continue to maintain its growth, before the Jebel Ali project becomes operational. Business will then be divided between the two airports," he ponders. "Plans are being drawn up for the two operations to compliment one another - we don't want to create an intensity of competition. Maybe one day all the cargo business will end up at Dubai World Central airport - who knows?"
Involved with DCV since day one, Al Jallaf smiles fondly as he reminisces over 16 years worth of experience in the sector. A popular figure in the regional ring, Al Jallaf also headed the host committee for last month's FIATA World Congress in Dubai. Liaising with the hub's relevant airlines, freight forwarders and authorities alongside ensuring issues such as maintenance and marketing run like clockwork, Al Jallaf's schedule always proves busy.
"Today, I look at myself and feel I have spent a great time at the cargo village," he says. "It has always been my dream that before I leave the village it will enter the top ten in the world. We are not far away from that goal now, and hopefully if things go smoothly this can be achieved in a maximum of two to three years."