Manpower needs on the rise as air cargo volume soars
Freight forwarding firms make huge investments at HKIA, which handled a record 3.4 million tonnes last year, writes Tim Metcalfe
HONG KONG WAS born as a shipping gateway to China, but the international airport at Chek Lap Kok is the rising star of foreign trade.
With a rapidly growing workforce of 55,000, Hong Kong International Airport has been the world's busiest airport for international air cargo since it opened nearly a decade ago. In that time, the volume of air cargo has doubled.
Last year, the airport handled 3.4million tonnes of freight. That represented only 1 per cent of total shipments by weight, with the vast majority still shipped by sea.
But the value of that cargo accounted for more than a third of Hong Kong's total trade, worth HK$1.57 trillion last year.
Shipments through the airport have also been steadily increasing, reaching a staggering 17 per cent last year alone.
Air cargo is expected to continue its growth momentum, driven by Hong Kong's highly connected global network. Chek Lap Kok airport has a great many more global connections than any mainland airport. More than 80 airlines service over 140 destinations, with the list growing almost weekly.
The industry is generating job opportunities at all levels to handle the expansion.
The world's leading airfreight company DHL Worldwide Express demonstrated its confidence in Hong Kong as a premier Asia-Pacific gateway when it opened its massive 'central Asia hub' two years ago. DHL is now doubling the size of the Hong Kong facility, with another HK$800million investment. When it opens next year, the 'super-hub' will be able to process 35,000 parcels and 40,000 documents an hour.
The company employs more than 2,000, serves over 100 flights a week to the United States alone, and handles more than 22million shipments a year. It is forecasting many opportunities in the near future, primarily in customer services and logistics.
DHL is not alone in a massive expansion programme for the air cargo industry.
Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl) has invested more than HK$8billion in SuperTerminal One, the world's largest standalone air cargo handling facility.
Hactl managing director Anthony Wong See-ho attributed Hong Kong's continuing status as the 'preferred gateway to the dynamic markets in mainland China' to the airport's efficiency, reliability and handling capacity that was 'unmatched worldwide'.
Asia Airfreight Terminal has also expanded this year, to the tune of HK$1.75billion, tripling its capacity to about 1.5 million tonnes a year by nearly quadrupling its gross floor area.
Meanwhile, the Airport Authority is increasing the number of parking bays for cargo freighters from 25 to 35, with an investment of HK$3billion. When fully developed, the airport will be able to handle up to 9 million tonnes of cargo a year, nearly three times the present volume.
Logistics are further boosted by the establishment of an air cargo station in Shenzhen and a link to Suzhou Industrial Park, creating direct connections with the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta.
With such spectacular growth, it is hardly surprising that the airport reported a record profit this year at HK$1.6billion, up a third from last year.
Airport Authority chief executive David Pang Ding-jung said: 'While the airport benefited from the strong market for air transport, it takes a safe, secure and consistently well-run operation to fully exploit the potential of the robust market environment. I am confident that China's burgeoning economy and ever-growing aviation market will provide [Hong Kong International Airport] with enormous growth momentum for the years to come.'
Equally bullish is Cathay Pacific Airways, which has finally been granted approval to add Beijing to its freighter network.
The new twice-weekly service supplements weekly freighter flights to Shanghai, which have increased from 12 to 17. Ron Mathison, director and general manager cargo, said the service strengthened Hong Kong's position as Asia's leading air cargo hub.
FedEx Express set up headquarters for its Asia-Pacific operations in Hong Kong in 1992, and has a local workforce of more than 1,000. The company was 'constantly recruiting to meet 'steady growth', said FedEx Hong Kong and Macau operations managing director Luiz Tung.
Openings at career entry level are mostly for customer service representatives and the growing army of couriers.
Higher up the salary ladder, professionals are being sought for marketing, planning, engineering and operations management positions, ahead of FedEx moving its Asia-Pacific hub from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Guangzhou in 2008.
The attractions of a career with FedEx include a lifelong learning scheme and an entitlement to up to US$2,000 annually to fund studies or any educational programme that improves employee skills.