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Riga airport expands to keep up with surge in cargo volume

AirBaltic Cargo.

DHL Express’ new plan to build a sort facility for packages at Riga International Airport reflects the burgeoning business interest in Latvia as an air cargo hub.

During the first nine months of the year, the airport handled almost 20,000 tons of cargo – half the entire air cargo volume in the Baltics. In 2018, cargo increased 10.4% to more than 27,000 tons. Riga’s throughput is dominated by trade in high value-added goods, mail and e-commerce, transshipments, and non-military cargo connecting through to Afghanistan.

The Riga airport authority is in the midst of developing a new cargo apron that will allow it to double its cargo handling capacity. The apron will feature three piers with a flexible layout to accommodate larger aircraft. Earlier this year, Rail Baltica, a greenfield rail transport infrastructure project aimed at integrating the Baltic states into the European rail network, began construction of a rail line to create a cargo link with the airport.

DHL Express said November 6 that it will lease the €12 million ($13.2 million) facility from real estate developer Castor Construction for 10 years, with two five-year options to extend the term. The terminal, which will incorporate a fleet of electric vehicles and other energy-saving features, is expected to be operational within a year. 

The 20 airlines operating at Riga Airport offer more than 70 passenger destinations in the winter season and more than 100 in the summer. 

One of the main carriers there is Riga-based Air Baltic, which is 80% owned by the Latvian government. The regional carrier operates a fleet of narrowbody aircraft, offering frequent flights to Europe, Estonia and Lithuania. Air Baltic said its third quarter cargo and mail tonnage grew 24% year-on-year. During the past two years it has achieved 40% growth in its tonnage, with mail accounting for nearly 70% of the volume.

Air Baltic says it is also experiencing strong cargo demand to destinations east of the Baltics, including Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. The carrier interlines in Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways to serve further destinations, according to spokeswoman Ilva Priedniece. 

“Air Baltic’s focus is on cooperating with mail operators across Europe, as well as developing interline mail agreements with large global airlines, allowing us to benefit from the e-commerce surge. E-commerce makes a substantial contribution to the increase in our mail volumes,” she said.