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New DHL hub boosts Milan airport’s cargo traffic

Dual air and parcel center designed to speed up European e-commerce deliveries

DHL's new air parcel hub at Milan Mallpensa Airport is a dual air and parcel terminal. (Photo: DHL Express)

A DHL Express air logistics hub that opened in mid-September has helped Milan Malpensa Airport stabilize freight business amid declining volumes from reduced passenger flights and further cement its market-leading position for air cargo in Italy. 

A $123.2 million investment turned what had been a gateway operation since 2014, with an average of four flights per day, into DHL’s fourth European hub. The dual facility integrates air operations and a parcel center with last-mile pickup and delivery under one roof. It can handle more than 30 flights per day and sort 38,000 parcels per hour. 

The increased express activity is having a major impact on Malpensa, located on the outskirts of Milan, and serves the northern industrial region of Lombardy that is responsible for a third of Italy’s exports. Skyrocketing e-commerce sales have already increased throughput for DHL, and the airport, in 2021.

Express throughput at Malpensa has nearly doubled to 30 million metric tons in the first two months of the year  compared to 2020 and has more than tripled since 2019. Overall, cargo volume is up by a third compared to 2020 and 2019, according to figures provided by airport operator SEA S.p.A.

Cargo traffic would have contracted more than 6.2%, 511.3 million metric tons, last year if not for the DHL expansion, which helped boost express tonnage by 147%. A large jump in freighter movements by airlines of all stripes, including passenger airlines with cargo-only flights, also helped offset weak cargo volumes carried under the floor of passenger planes, most of which were grounded because of the COVID crisis. 

Two-thirds of air cargo at Italian airports last year moved through Milan Malpensa compared to 53.6% in 2019. 

The new hub, which represents nearly a third of the company’s new investment in Italy, became fully operational in March. It serves as a transfer point for the Italian airports of Ancona, Pisa and Naples, and hubs in  Brussels; East Midlands, U.K.; and Leipzig, Germany; as well as nine other European cities. Additionally, shipments can move beyond Europe to large terminals in Bahrain; Seoul, South Korea; and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in the U.S.

That global connectivity is a boost for the regional economy, which has heavy concentrations of IT, textile, fashion, chemical, aeronautics and automotive manufacturers. Since the beginning of the year, DHL Express has also used Malpensa to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to regional and national health authorities in Italy. 

The 592,000-square-foot parcel center has 2.8 miles of high-speed conveyor belts and 150 dock doors for delivery vans. The LEED-certified design focuses on saving energy and water, and reducing carbon emissions.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]