The air cargo business is booming, and Pittsburgh International Airport is making the most of its opportunities in the transport world.
On Monday, PIT welcomed the first flight of new contracted cargo service on Qatar Airways brokered by freight forwarder Unique Logistics. The twice-weekly service will bring converted Boeing 777-300ER passenger jets to Pittsburgh from Singapore through the end of the year.
In a way, however, this isn’t new to Pittsburgh at all—Unique wrapped up a contract with Qatar Airways to provide cargo service to PIT just a week ago.
“The main reasons that we continue to work with PIT are the efficiencies and the degree of cooperation we get from the local community,” said Marc Schlossberg, executive vice president of air cargo & sales/marketing for Unique.
“When we compare [PIT] to the major U.S. gateways, we get a level of service and speed that we can’t find many other places.”
Unique’s partnership with PIT began more than a decade ago, when Schlossberg says Unique flew 747s into Pittsburgh on cargo runs. After a one-off flight a few years later, the freight forwarder returned last year with three months of cargo service from Hong Kong coordinated with Cathay Pacific Airways, which flew in twice-weekly on converted Boeing 777-300ERs.
A month after that contract concluded, Unique began the just-ended weekly service with Qatar, in partnership with Apex Logistics and Expo Group, Bangladesh.
The repeat business is welcome, said Bryan Dietz, Vice President of Air Service Development at PIT.
“As cargo demand has surged, logistics providers are looking for reliable solutions to get products to their customers as quickly as possible,” Dietz said. “Our partnership with Unique is built on the mutual goal of moving cargo efficiently while providing a proven solution to costly delays many shippers are experiencing.”
Airlines and freight forwarders alike have consistently praised PIT’s ability to speedily unload cargo and get it on trucks to distribution centers, a valuable trait in a business where time costs money.
Traditional cargo hubs at airports in places like Chicago and New York are often swamped, creating a backlog that keeps cargo sitting for days waiting to be processed. Every minute that cargo isn’t being moved to its final destination incurs further expenses.
Add in PIT’s proximity to a majority of the U.S. population and capacity to handle large aircraft, and moving cargo through Pittsburgh becomes an easy decision, Schlossberg said.
“We’ve made [those advantages] clear to certain customers that are intrigued by the idea of potentially using PIT for more of their cargo,” he said. “They see the turnaround time from wheels down to their distribution centers. You can basically hit all of the major East Coast gateways, even down to Atlanta, in 12 hours [of driving].”
Unique’s growing relationship with PIT is complemented by interest from other airlines and shippers who are taking notice of the airport’s reputation. From a gigantic Antonov carrying parts for critically needed medical supplies to Pittsburgh’s first-ever nonstop flights from Helsinki, Finland, PIT is attracting more attention as a cargo destination.
Just last month, Amazon added PIT to its national air delivery network, one of only about 40 airports designated for daily cargo service from the e-commerce giant.
And it’s not just the industry taking notice. Government officials at the state and local levels are learning how valuable PIT’s cargo operation can be to the regional economy as a whole.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded PIT an $18.69 million BUILD grant to support the construction of a 75,000-square-foot cargo processing facility and an adjacent surface parking lot to expand air cargo operations. And this spring, the state awarded its own $2.5 million grant to assist the development of what the airport has dubbed the Cargo 4 project.
PIT will continue to build partnerships with freight forwarders like Unique as the cargo operation grows, Dietz said.
“As more airlines and freight forwarders bring cargo through Pittsburgh International Airport, the word continues to spread about our efficiency and ideal location,” he said. “Our ongoing work with Marc and Unique is proof of what we can do for the logistics industry.”