Nova Scotia

Halifax airport sees jump in cargo plane traffic

The Halifax Stanfield International Airport is experiencing a jump in air freight traffic, with dozens of additional cargo planes landing at the site last month. Among them are British Airways jets from London's Heathrow Airport.

Cargo flights are 'critical,' says airport spokesperson

Cargojet is one of the companies that routinely lands at the Halifax airport. (Fasttailwind/Shutterstock)

The Halifax Stanfield International Airport is experiencing a jump in air freight traffic, with dozens of additional cargo planes landing at the site last month.

During a typical week in the winter only about 25 cargo planes touch down at the airport. But in March, between seven and 10 more airplanes a week arrived, a roughly 30 per cent increase from 2019, said Leah Batstone, a spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority.

The increase in cargo traffic has been a bit of good news, said Batstone. The more imports and exports that fly into and out of the province, the more money is brought into local businesses and the airport.   

"The cargo revenue doesn't really make up for the loss in passenger revenue that we've seen due to the pandemic, but it's an important part for the economy," said Batstone.

She said the cargo flights are "critical," bringing in things like personal protective equipment and vaccines, and aiding with e-commerce: "It plays a really important role in facilitating the delivery of those goods."

A FedEx and CargoJet plane are parked at the Halifax airport in October 2020. (Vision Air Services Inc.)

The entire air travel industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with travel restrictions, quarantine measures and advisories to avoid domestic and international travel decimating the industry. With so few people flying, airports and airlines lost millions. Some airports estimate it will take up to five years to recover.

Some of the new air traffic into Halifax is coming from British Airways jets carrying cargo out of London's Heathrow Airport. They've been bringing in raw materials for a manufacturer in Nova Scotia. Batstone wouldn't name the company bringing in the goods, but said it had more than a dozen planes come into the province in March and early April. 

Leah Batstone is a spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority. (Meghan Tansey Whitton)

Cargo planes are also now making technical stops in Halifax.

"A technical stop would be when an aircraft would arrive, they would be obtaining fuel, doing some maintenance, maybe doing a crew change. So we're seeing a few more technical stops now as part of the regular schedule for some of these carriers," said Batstone.     

These planes never stopped in Halifax before because there simply wasn't enough room at the airport. That changed in December with the construction of new aprons, areas off the runway where airplanes park to be loaded and unloaded. 

Right now there are three aprons for cargo planes, with two more under construction. The new aprons will be able to handle a Boeing 747-400 freighter, which can carry about the same amount of cargo as five transport trucks, said Batstone. 

The new aprons are part of the Air Cargo Logistics Park, which is being built on 10 hectares of vacant land that runs along Highway 102. When finished, the park will contain buildings specialized for cargo handling, aircraft de-icing and operations, according to a 2019 Halifax airport news release. 

One of the buildings is currently under construction and is expected to be finished this summer. It will include cold storage to help better preserve seafood before it's flown out to places like Europe and Asia.

"It will help with preserving the freshness and helping to increase the exports of seafood from Nova Scotia," said Batstone.

Construction continues on a building that will be part of the Air Cargo Logistics Park. The building is expected to be completed this summer. (Halifax International Airport Authority)

Construction of the cargo logistics park is set to cost $36 million. The federal government put up $18 million for the project, the province chipped in $5 million, while the airport authority put in the remaining $13 million, according to a news release. 

The entire facility is expected to be up and running by the end of this year. 

"Having these aircraft coming and going and seeing that increase already, and we've just opened three of the five aprons, it just goes to show that this infrastructure was needed by the industry and we're already seeing the value of it," said Batstone. "It will benefit the community and the regional economy quite significantly in the years to come."