The reality of sea-air transportation
Although discussions about the concept of 'sea-air' transportation are prevalent in the logistics industry, I noticed a common misnomer about the subject at the recent World Air Cargo Event in Bahrain.
A number of delegates were under the impression that sea-air combined transport is actually a 'growing idea' that will emerge in the coming years. However, as I quickly stated, it's already a thriving reality that has been exemplified by Dubai's expanding role as a transhipment hub.
Until recently, the main traffic lane for sea-air cargo moving through the United Arab Emirates was from the Far East to Europe. More recently, Africa has developed into a growth market, particularly for land-locked countries on the continent. I cannot stress enough the huge market potential of Africa.
The continent is 11.6 million square miles in size, making it bigger than China, the United States and Europe combined. Of course, a land of this immensity is likely to face a number of logistical challenges.
This is where the appeal of Dubai as transit hub again rises to the fore. The emirate is nothing short of a worldclass gateway and possesses all the right qualities required for a global transit hub.
It has a strategic geographic location that can serve the Far East, Indian subcontinent, CIS countries and parts of Europe and North America.
Furthermore, its government is enthusiastic about lending support to businesses. It's little wonder therefore that approximately 20 airlines are currently plying the UAE-Africa route, which encompasses most areas of the continent.
More importantly, the country has an open sky policy and efficient customs facilitation, which all adds to the mechanism of making the sea-air combined transport concept work.
Essential to the success of a sea-air logistics solution into Africa from the Far East via the United Arab Emirates is the collaboration of expertise amongst freight forwarders, shipping lines and airlines.
Dubai has already begun turning this into a reality and must continue moving in this direction over the coming years.
The collaboration of Swift Freight, Ethiopian Airlines and Maersk Shipping Lines is a perfect example. Working under the product title SAM (Sea Air Model into Africa), the service combines sea-air transport from the Far East to Africa, using Dubai as a stopover.
It utilises ocean freight from the Far East to Dubai and offers prompt transfer executed by Swift Freight via air cargo from Dubai to African destinations.
SAM defies the transit time of sea freight, plus the constraints and high cost of airfreight. Sea-air combined transport from the Far East to Africa via Dubai is thus a thriving reality.
The imminent future of Dubai is vivid. It's an exciting time generally for the freight forwarding industry.
With projects such as the Dubai Logistics City alongside the ambitious Al Maktoum International Airport, it is clear that the emirate has truly realised its potential to become the transit hub to the world.
Issa Baluch is chairman and CEO of Swift Freight International and past president of FIATA. He is the author of Transport Logistics, Past, Present and Predictions (www.transportlogistics.com)