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Commentary: Georgia’s life sciences industry to benefit from agreement between Atlanta and Amsterdam airports

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Already one of the world’s busiest passenger airports, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has set its sights on becoming a U.S. top five cargo airport. To reach this lofty goal, a number of initiatives have either been achieved and/or announced as part of a broad strategic plan introduced a few years ago. Among the initiatives are the development of one million square feet of cargo space, a new vehicle staging area to increase capacity for trucks and redevelopment of the area around the airport.

Total cargo in terms of metric tons has increased 2.9 percent over the past five years. Of the total cargo, freight and express have increased 3.3 percent while mail has declined 2.1 percent for the same period.

With such cargo providers as Cathay Pacific, Delta, FedEx, Lufthansa and UPS operating at the airport, international freight and express metric tons have been particularly strong, growing 4.6 percent from 2014 to 2018.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s USA Trade Online, among the largest commodities traded are pharmaceutical goods. In terms of value, 2018 imports and exports each increased 21 percent from 2017. Import volumes, in terms of kilograms, increased over 73 percent for the same period while export volumes increased 30.5 percent.

The largest trade partner for pharmaceutical goods is the Netherlands and with the recent memorandum of understanding between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Europe’s third-largest air cargo hub, trade will increase further between these two airports.

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Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a major pharmaceutical logistics hub for not only the European region but for the world.

Its focus on pharmaceuticals dates back several years with the airport and business groups coming together to promote and create pharmaceutical corridors and trade lanes between the airport and other important markets. Indeed, the airport’s location in relationship to road, rail and water links creates a strong multi-modal hub and has attracted many logistics and transportation providers to this area. Including the following:

  • In 2013 KLM Pharma 15-26 Zone opened a dedicated area for handling pharmaceuticals and life sciences cargo.
  • As part of its “Pharma Superhighway,” Yusen Logistics also has a dedicated pharmaceutical zone. The space includes fully automatic temperature control (ambient, 15-25 °C) and a refrigeration unit for storage at a constant temperature between 2-8°C. Furthermore, it is good distribution practices (GDP)-compliant and fully guaranteed.
  • Panalpina’s facility at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has temperature-controlled cells with temperatures ranging between 2-8ºC and 15-25ºC. The facility also offers re-icing as well as packaging services for pharmaceutical customers.
  • UPS also maintains a healthcare and life-sciences freight forwarding facility at the airport. It is almost 6,500 square feet and is GDP-compliant. The facility features temperature zone ranges of 2-8°C and 15-25°C, as well as 24/7 monitoring and alarm systems to protect the integrity of temperature-sensitive healthcare shipments. In addition, UPS also provides for the assembly of insulated pallet-packing options and the maintenance of actively controlled containers.
  • DHL Global Forwarding’s Life Science Competence Center serves as a hub for the transport, transport preparation, temporary storage and transport follow-up of active and passive temperature-controlled pharmaceutical and medicinal products. The one million euro facility covers 1,000 square meters.

Over the years, Schiphol has signed memorandums of understanding with such airports as Changi Airport Singapore, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and Incheon International Airport in South Korea to further expand trade connections. The airport has also invested in technology platforms to share data between airports, carriers and shippers.

Schipol’s Smart Cargo Mainport Program focuses on sharing data and other collaborative initiatives with the cargo community to optimize air cargo flows while the airport’s Cargonaut manages processes involved in the import and export of goods through Schiphol.


According to The Life Science Industry in Georgia: Economic Trends and Impact report published in May 2019, life sciences establishments grew by over 32 percent between 2007 and 2017 compared to just 1 percent for all industries in the state. At an estimated 1,960 establishments, the life sciences industry contributed 68,300 jobs and $10 billion to Georgia’s gross domestic product in 2017. These contributions represented 1.2 percent of all non-farm employment in Georgia between October 2017 and October 2018 and 1.7 percent of Georgia’s 2016 GDP.

Among the life sciences companies with facilities in the state of Georgia are Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., SJ Pharmaceuticals, Baxter, Johnson & Johnson and Cardinal Health. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

Following Schiphol’s lead, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is working with Kale Logistics Solutions to create its own airport cargo community system. According to Amar More, Director, Kale Logistics Solutions, “The next-gen platform goes beyond the traditional message exchange systems and aims to integrate the whole air freight supply chain from exporter to importer, thereby creating efficiency, transparency and security in the supply chain. This community system also has the capability to link to the partner airport communities through digital corridors and illuminate the end-to-end shipment journey.”

Indeed, similar to the Netherlands, the state of Georgia is a natural multi-modal hub with road, rail, ocean and air networks links extending across the U.S. Investments in technology to connect logistics partners and carriers with shippers regardless of industry focus will solidify the state of Georgia’s role as a leading destination to do business – domestic and international – and help Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport achieve its goal of a U.S. top five air cargo airport.

Cathy Roberson

Cathy Morrow Roberson is a market analyst with a research and economics background. Roberson began her career as a librarian; she was then an analyst at an e-commerce start-up; and was an analyst at UPS Supply Chain Solutions supporting market, competitive and mergers & acquisition research and analytic needs for 11 years. After a brief stint with specialized consulting firms, Roberson now manages the logistics-focused market research firm, Logistics Trends & Insights LLC, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia.