December 10 - Project cargo forwarding has been on a roll in the last few years, but for those forwarders that rely on air freight movements, there are a number of challenges on the horizon that may very well impact on their business model within the next

That is the opinion of Jawad Kamel, founder and CEO of Istanbul-based project forwarder Advance International Transport. 

He says: "The first challenge is the future of outsize, maindeck capacity. This appears to have hit a brick wall. Since the AN-124 burst on the Western freight market in the early 1990s, we have come to rely completely on its gigantic capacity. My company, alone, handled and chartered more than 100 AN-124 and AN-225 flights in a three month peak period after the end of war in Iraq. 

"A replacement for the AN-124 will be required by 2025 or serious maindeck capacity beyond the B747F or any Airbus freighter capacity will vanish. Items which fly now will no longer be flown." 

The second challenge to air freight heavy lift operations is a resurgent heavy lift maritime sector. How long will clients allow forwarders to charter expensive aircraft movements when an equally good but lower-cost sea alternative is available? 

Mr Kamel said: "As a forwarder, I have to say that the sea option is not one to be ignored. Heavy lift shipping lines are investing millions in ships that can handle everything that can go by air. Air supporters will say that this means journeys that take hours by air will take weeks by sea. But I wonder how important the speed air offers really is to our clients? 

"As long as we educate our clients about the slower surface speeds at sea, then most will able to factor in the longer lead time to their building schedules. 

"Of course, I understand that aircraft such as AN-124 and AN-225 are proven to be of excellent value for delayed and emergency shipments which can't be moved in time by other modes. They are also of critical importance for landlocked countries to which it is sometimes very difficult, if not impossible to serve overland from the sea port to construction jobsite." 

There can be advantages to channelling heavy lift and project cargo through seaports instead of airports, Mr Kamel considered. 

He says: "Many ports welcome heavy lift consignments while many airports shun them. Getting access to a quayside or in and out of a port is often much easier than getting airside on anything other than a dedicated freight airport. Many heavy lift lines now operate liner services so there is great certainty that a consignment loaded on a ship for a particular port will reach that port and not be diverted." 

In light of recent news that production is about to resume on an upgraded new generation of AN-124s Mr Kamel appealed for words to be put into action. 

He said: "I call on the governments of Russia and Ukraine to develop a new production cycle for a new aircraft. The economies of scale might be difficult, especially for aircraft with such low volume production as heavy lift maindeck capacity. However, without this investment in time and money now, in less than two decades we could see the heavy lift air freight sector grounded."