The growing popularity of sea-air transport
The combination of airfreight and seafreight transportation is providing huge advantages for the logistics industry, explains Sumesh Nair, general manager of Globelink West Star Shipping Middle East.
How would you define the concept of 'sea-air' transportation?
Dubai has become one of the top seven leading sea-air transport hubs in the world. The sea-air model is essentially an integration of two different transportation modes. The cargo is initially transported by seafreight and later by airfreight. This combination offers a drastic saving in transit time compared to pure seafreight, whilst offering a maximum cost saving of 50% compared to pure airfreight. It's basically the best of both worlds.
Do freight forwarders in the Middle East favour the sea-air model?
I would say sea-air transportation plays a very important role for the Middle East logistics industry. For example, Dubai has become one of the top seven leading sea-air transport hubs in the world. The emirate's capacity for sea-air cargo has been growing in leaps and bounds - it's now the most sought-after transit point over the North Pacific route.
Does Dubai offer any specific advantages in terms of sea-air transportation?
As a hub for this type of transportation, Dubai has several advantages, especially since two of the most efficient seaports in the world are located at Jebel Ali and Port Rashid. These are served by most of the major shipping lines, predominantly from the Far East, with very short transit times from Hong Kong, mainland China, Indian subcontinent and South East Asia. In addition, Dubai offers simple customs formalities, which means seamless transport connections to ensure cargo can be custom-cleared from the seaport and delivered to airlines within five or six hours.
Does Dubai's airport infrastructure also support sea-air transportation?
Yes, Dubai's airport is also very efficient, which is another bonus. The service providing company, Dnata, has further augmented this form of transportation by dedicating seven docks to receiving sea-air cargo. In addition, the airport is well connected, offering a choice of over 100 export destinations on a weekly basis. It's quite right to credit Emirates Airlines in this respect, because it has played a vital role in the development of sea-air cargo, with its continuously growing fleet and plenitude of direct services to Europe, Africa and more recently to the United States.
What other parts of the Middle East hold promise in terms of sea-air transportation?
The airport in Sharjah has played an increasingly vital role in augmenting the movement of sea-air cargo through the Middle East region. Many airlines offer direct scheduled freight capacities from Sharjah International Airport to Europe. Sharjah is also one of the leading sea-air hubs in Asia and has shown a growth rate of over 50% in the past couple of years.
What are your predictions for sea-air transportation in the region?
The future remains overwhelmingly positive. Regional airlines such as Emirates and Etihad, which operate at the major Middle Eastern airports, are offering a high flight frequency and growing airfreight capacity. Also, looking at the developments currently underway in the region, this trend continues to remain positive. The new airport currently being constructed in Jebel Ali, as part of the newly launched Dubai Logistics City, is a truly integrated logistics platform, which will further boost Dubai's position in the sea-air marketplace. It will feature over 16 cargo terminals, some of which are exclusively dedicated to sea-air transportation, with an emphasis on single handling. This means the freight forwarder will be allowed to build their own pallets and deliver them directly to the airlines.
Can the Middle East compete with other regions around the world for a lucrative share of the sea-air market?
I believe this is a definite possibility in the future. The Middle East has become a very strong contender in the international logistics industry and its position continues to strengthen every year. For example, the regional transportation infrastructure is very efficient and well developed, matching worldclass standards. This is a major bonus for the logistics industry in terms of speed and cost effectiveness. It also directly impacts the movement of sea-air cargo out of the UAE, especially via Dubai and Sharjah.