Integrated, Hybrid, and Shared Air Cargo Hubs Are Coming to an Airport Near You

July 25, 2021

Our design breaks away from the traditional 2-dimensional isolated layout of cargo layout, using a 3 dimensional, hybrid, integrated, and holistic model. The entire cargo hub is a large architectural multiplex, reflecting a complete new way of logistics operation.
At macro level, multimodal centers, logistics and warehousing facilities are coming into air cargo hubs
Air cargo hubs become integrated and hybrid between land and air sides
Air cargo hubs are inter-connected complexes 3-dimensionally due to the advent of IoT technology

In recent years, even during the COVID pandemic, global air cargo has enjoyed steady growth, thanks to strong international trade volumes and the explosion of e-commerce. Many large airports are building and expanding their air cargo facilities to meet this tremendous growth. Having designed several large- to mega-size air cargo hubs in Asia and North America, we at SAAN have seen a clear trend in the air cargo infrastructure sector towards building more open, hybrid, and integrated air cargo facilities. These new ways of air cargo operation are revolutionary and best suited for the new era of e-commerce.

Firstly, at a macro level from the airport runway radiating outward, cargo hubs are joined up by super fulfillment centers, cold chain facilities, and duty-free buildings. International 3DLs and 4DLs are moving ever closer to the center of air cargo hubs. They are welcomed by airlines and cargo carriers as being capable of directly enhancing the operating efficiency of cargo hubs.

Following them, more and more spaces inside cargo hubs are reserved for international freight forwarders, local and regional carriers, national consolidators, etc. In addition, we see an array of onsite warehouse brokers and operators becoming legitimate tenants of cargo hubs. For the cargo hub complex, we see a trend going multi-dimensional, integrated, and open. For most airports, air cargo has a great variety of shapes and forms. To compensate for this variety, air cargo hubs need to be capable of handling cargo that is B2B, B2C, C2B, and C2C.

More and more hub spaces are laid out with sortation equipment at the bottom, operation management in the middle, and storage space on top. We see this integration of air cargo support and supplement in verticality configuration, forming a modular and flexible unit that can be changed over time. We also see a healthy mix of international carriers, cross-border e-commerce operators, distributors, special cargo commerce, and traders as the core of today’s hubs.

For a large air cargo hub project in China, our design breaks away from the traditional 2-dimensional isolated layout of cargo layout, using a 3-dimensional, hybrid, mixed, and holistic model. The entire cargo hub is a large architectural multiplex, reflecting a new way of logistics operation. It has three parts: an air cargo center, a hub logistics center, and a logistics business center. We merge three into one, using single directional-double deck-two level circulation, with highly efficient movement from airside to landside, international to domestic, gateway cargo to the hub, and regional cargo.

The material handling industry has seen an explosion of new technologies. For the China project, we designed automatic cargo bridges and corridors throughout the hub with guided movers and unmanned cargo carriers. Intelligence will be built into the entire facility with a central control room at key locations. To minimize the effect of hot air islands in typical large warehouse zones, we designed green roofs at different heights and levels, which will form an extended garden-like environment for the cargo hub.

Logistics parks are being built directly outside air cargo hubs. Air cargo hub will spur more and more vertical warehousing and 2-level truck bays for high efficiency. Global gateway airports will join forces with multimodal and intermodal facilities to increase economic coverage. The future is bright for air cargo, especially those with world-class facility design and construction.