In an interview, Payload Asia talks to Asia Airfreight Terminal’s Mike Chew, who took the reins at AAT in December last year, as he looks back on the year that was, as well as his prospects on what lies ahead for the Hong Kong-based air cargo terminal operator.
Can you give us a background on how the company performed in 2022?
Compared to 2021, the cargo performance in 2022 worldwide was weaker. We had a good year in 2021 with many cargo charter operations which we have not seen in 2022. More so, same as the industry, the traditional peak season is quite muted. But throughout, we look back on a fruitful 2022 with great achievements. We continue to improve our cold chain offerings by launching the first- of-its-kind facility AAT COOLPORT in July, and keep up with the best industry practice in dangerous goods solutions by getting to be the first air cargo terminal in Hong Kong to obtain IATA CEIV Li-batt Certification in September.
Against constant changes and uncertainties, we remain focused on the safety of the cargo we handle, and delivering consistently high service quality to our customers. We maintain a great team spirit at AAT and have been proudly recognized by many of our customers for being one of their best service providers and partners.
With the opening of COOLPORT last year, what’s AAT’s plan when it comes to positioning itself in the cold chain market?
We focus to support pharma and perishables shipments in a complete temperature-controlled environment for the entire cargo handling process. For Hong Kong specifically, it is hugely beneficial to have added capacity, not just for status but to meet the needs of its own citizens. While some regions are able to sustain themselves without outside support, Hong Kong doesn’t grow its own food and so it relies on importing perishables. Similarly, high-value pharmaceuticals are needed in a metropolis like Hong Kong.
The COOLPORT stands out in the cargo space, not just because it’s Hong Kong’s first on-airport cold-chain facility but because it continues to represent AAT’s ongoing commitment to offer unique solutions to the growing demand for safe transportation of time and temperature-sensitive air cargo. In a strategic location at the airport, the facility allows for the seamless movement of cargo through the facility in a speedy and effective manner that prevents potential disruptions to the cold chain.
From the moment cargo is accepted at the air-conditioned truck docks, we have special shelters that allow the cargo to come right off the truck into a temperature-controlled environment. There is no exposure to outside temperatures and once it comes into our facilities, it can be broken down, weighed, X-rayed, palletized and stored, with the entire process worked under the specific temperature-controlled environment.
What can you say about the recent certification for Li-battery shipments, and how important is this validation based on your customer conversations?
Air cargo shipments containing lithium batteries that could endanger passengers and aircraft remain an issue of concern despite continued increases in volumes, ensuring correct handling has therefore never been more important. To mitigate the risks and address the concern of customers, AAT is one of the first ground handling companies to achieve the IATA CEIV Li-batt Certification as well as the IATA Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) Center
Certification for Dangerous Goods handling.
These certifications are vital for us to further validate and refine handling procedures in compliance with the requirements and regulations of international best practice standards. With the growing demand for air cargo containing lithium batteries, the new additions are welcomed by our customers and industries as it has no doubt given them even more confidence that their consignments containing lithium batteries are being transported efficiently and reliably by us. This also further strengthens the status of Hong Kong International Airport as the world’s hub for all types of cargo.
With Hong Kong and China opening up for travel, what’s the company’s overall outlook?
Since December, China and Hong Kong have started relaxing the cross-border logistics arrangement. It is an encouraging sign of recovery for the Hong Kong aviation industry. While we expect the market to go through the transition period to readjust after the pandemic, we will continue to improve our offerings and focus on our areas of expertise, which include handling of special cargo shipments, as well as e-commerce cargo and other time- and temperature-sensitive shipments.
AAT runs, via its logistic arm Asia Airfreight Services (AAS), AAS SecurePlus with the only Regulated Air Cargo Screening Facilities (RACSF) located within an airport cargo terminal. The strategic location enables AAT to offer a one-stop on- airport integrated cargo screening and logistics solution that covers the export logistics chain between southern China and Hong Kong for the expedited handling of time-critical e-commerce shipments.
With the market opening up, we are also planning for various events engaging our customers and the industry partners, as well as looking to be at industry forums and conferences, reaching out to those that we haven’t been able to meet over the past few challenging years!
Do you forecast air cargo demand to remain strong this year?
Many of our airline customers are resuming and restoring flight capacities to Hong Kong as Hong Kong is a leading aviation hub in the world. Yet, there are still challenges to be faced, such as global economic uncertainties and ongoing geopolitical tensions. We will remain
focused while staying cautiously optimistic for the cargo demand to pick up.
Where does the company stand when it comes to digitalisation and sustainability, and what are the trends that you think will play an important role in realising such plans?
While expanding and increasing cargo volumes, AAT is determined to do so in a way that has a minimal impact on the environment. AAT has successfully achieved a 50 percent reduction in its carbon footprint since 2008 with green measures such as switching 95 percent of work vehicles to run on electricity with on- site charging stations for AAT and customer vehicles, retrofitting the warehouse with LED lighting, and applying solar-powered LED lights in outdoor areas. The recent launch, AAT COOLPORT, is also built with sustainability in mind. COOLPORT features non-ozone depleting refrigerants offering a low global warming potential (GWP), double doors, air curtains, speed doors, and thermal insulation panels. All are designed and built to minimize heat loss to achieve energy savings.
We are pleased that the green efforts are recognised by winning the “Sustainable Warehouse Operator of the Year 2022” in the Freightweek Sustainability Awards, as well as receiving the “Wastewi$e” Certification (Excellent Level) and “Energywi$e” Certification (Excellent Level) from the Hong Kong Green Organization Certification for the ninth consecutive year. AAT continuously implements innovative, eco-friendly initiatives and we believe that green is indeed the colour of the future.
With regards to digitalisation, AAT steps into 2023 with ongoing digital efforts by introducing the advanced “Customs Queuing and Clearance Appointment” functionality in January 2023. The virtual queuing solution facilitates terminal users including truckers and freight forwarders to queue remotely while monitoring the status in real time for custom clearance process.
Moving forward, technological innovation will remain at the top of the mind of AAT’s development. We have numerous digital transformation projects in the pipeline dedicated to serving our customers better with greater shipment visibility and improved work processes with higher efficiency and effectiveness.