Despite fewer people travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a lot of activity at Hamilton’s airport.
Cargo activity at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport — measured in maximum take-off weight — was up 20 per cent in September, compared to the same time period in 2019.
Dina Carlucci, director of business development and customer experience for the airport, said the “lion’s share” of that traffic has been driven by e-commerce, primarily through Cargojet and DHL — two of the airport’s major carriers.
“E-commerce has been what has caused these airlines to thrive in years past, even before the pandemic,” said Carlucci. “And while the pandemic is now underway, if you will, more people are staying home and gravitating to new habits like shopping online.”
She said that trend is expected to continue as the holiday shopping season gets underway.
“Our cargo airline partners have told us that through the pandemic, they’re already operating at Christmas-peak levels. So one can only imagine what the fourth quarter will entail.”
Cathie Puckering, the airport’s president and CEO, said shipments of medical supplies and personal protective equiment (PPE) also contributed to the rise in cargo activity.
“Starting in late March, early April, the airport has moved … about 100 flights now that are directly related to PPE, medical supplies, and those COVID-related goods, and that’s continuing to hold true today,” Puckering said during an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show.
“Those decisions were made in 2019 to quadruple capacity in Hamilton, and getting prepared for the emerging opportunities that were coming ahead in the next three, five years … the growth has just doubled earlier than they had expected.”
Puckering also cited the recent announcement about Amazon’s plans to build a fulfillment centre near the airport.
While no official partnership between Amazon and the airport has been established, Carlucci said they’ve engaged in “preliminary discussions” with both the company and the developer — adding that Cargojet is already in a partnership with Amazon.
In the meantime, passenger traffic at the airport is down by as much as 60 per cent compared to this time last year.
Carlucci said that’s unsurprising, due to the pandemic and travel restrictions associated with COVID-19, and said it could be much worse.
“We’ve heard of cases where some airports are down 90 per cent. We know of airports in the region that are completely closed and haven’t reopened since the pandemic started. So, it really does depend on which airlines you feature, and is there a demand for the … services that the airline provides.”
Low-cost carrier Swoop airlines announced last month that it would no longer offer certain flights from Hamilton, opting to move the bulk of its operations to Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
Carlucci said Swoop has been able to operate “relatively successfully” during the summer, despite reducing their schedule.