Collaborations between U.S., Mexico poised to change North American air freight landscape

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Expanding operations in Mexico and increased collaboration between power players Mexico and the United States are changing the way goods are moved both between Mexico and Asia and throughout North America.

Former Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante Anchondo is forging ahead with plans to make the well-known tourist spot an air cargo hub.

Matrix air cargo and logistics park began operating out of a former airplane repair hangar near A.L. Rodriguez International Airport earlier this month. Initial traffic consists mostly of air freight that would otherwise go through the airport, according to an article published by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Union-Tribune reported that Bustamante expects a rapid increase in traffic as express carriers and freight forwarders discover how efficient and cost effective shipping goods directly into Tijuana has the potential to be.

Right now, air cargo making its way from Asia to Mexico is generally flown into Mexico City, Mexico or Long Beach, California. The majority of air cargo headed for Northern Mexico is flown into Los Angeles International Airport and trucked across the border.

“This expansion of capacity in Tijuana will permit two things to happen that don’t occur now,” project consultant and former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin said. “First, goods can be shipped directly from Asia to Northern Mexico, then distributed from there without having to wait to be trucked across the border. This avoids extended border wait times. In addition, much of the express cargo that is coming into San Diego right now is actually intended to be distributed in Northern Mexico. It can be done so directly with a FedEx plane coming into Tijuana six days per week, again eliminating the need to truck goods across the border.”

The expansion will also allow Mexican export goods to be shipped directly from Tijuana to Asia. This includes perishable commodities that can quickly lose quality, like fresh seafood and produce.

“In terms of air cargo, this really will be a game changer,” Bersin said. “While short-sighted perspectives would focus on an immediate loss of business for San Diego and Los Angeles, the longer view understands that when big changes like this come about, the whole pie grows to the benefit of everyone.”

Bersin and Bustamante highlighted this in presentations made to the San Diego International Airport Authority, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Smart Border Coalition, a cross-border civic and business organization in Tijuana and San Diego.

While the expansion is initially largely focused  on moving goods between Mexico and Asia, Bersin said it also opens up the opportunity to increase trade via air between Mexico and the United States and downstream among Canada, Mexico and the United States.

“This is a win-win, not a zero sum situation,” Bersin said. “These kinds of transformational changes in logistics tend to be good for everyone in the mid-term and certainly in the long-term.”

About 80 percent of goods shipped between North American countries are moved by truck, with rail taking 17 percent of the pie and air making up for the final 3 percent.

This expansion could be a step toward increasing the use of air freight in trading among North American countries, giving small and midsize producers a wider network of potential customers in the vast expansion of e-commerce, according to Bersin.

“For example, craft beer makers in Chattanooga will be able to rely on air to ship their beer all over North America instead of just across the state or to neighboring states,” he said. “Cheese makers in Quebec will be able to share their product with people across the continent.”

Matrix air cargo and logistics park is not the only project that could have an impact on how goods move through North America.

Earlier this year, plans for a new international cargo hub, SkyBridge Arizona were announced.

The first-of-its-kind hub will be based out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and house both Mexican and United States Customs.

The service is intended to allow e-commerce companies and manufacturers doing business throughout Latin America to transport goods between the United States and Mexico in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible, according to a media release from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s office.

“SkyBridge will truly change the way we conduct cross-border business, slashing delivery times for companies and ensuring safe transit,” SkyBridge CEO Ariel Picker said. “This is true international cooperation and something we can all be proud of.”

Air freight to SkyBridge Arizona will benefit from the Unified Cargo Processing Program.

The program, which is jointly carried out by U.S. and Mexico customs officers, began last year as a pilot program in Nogales, Arizona. It currently approves incoming and outgoing freight bound for both the U.S. and Mexico at the airport.

“Consumers in Latin America want the ability to purchase goods online and receive them the next day. SkyBridge Arizona will make that a reality,” Mesa Mayor John Giles said. “This project will transform Mesa into an international e-commerce hub, benefitting not only our city but also our state and the Arizona-Mexico region as a whole.”

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Ashley Coker, Staff Writer

Ashley is interested in the opportunities and issues that arise at the intersection of law and technology. She is the primary contributor to the news site content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.