By Keith Norbury

Members of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association will flock to Edmonton this September for a conference to celebrate the association’s 65th anniversary. It’s the first time ever, though, that CIFFA has held a national conference such as this, said Executive Director Ruth Snowden. “So it’s going to be a wonderful and really very cost-effective opportunity for the whole international freight forwarding community to come together with manufacturers, importers and exporters,” Ms. Snowden said.

The conference, called Roads, Rails and Runway, takes place Sept. 25 and 26 at the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel, scheduled to open this summer at Edmonton International Airport, which is co-hosting the event. Other supporters include the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters. “It’s been designed and developed for international freight forwarders,” Ms. Snowden said. “So the whole agenda really is of interest to freight forwarders.”

Take a tour of the oil sands

While parts of the agenda were still being worked out as this article went to press, confirmed items include an intermodal panel discussion, keynote addresses from executives with Edmonton and Frankfurt airports, a presentation on project cargo, and flyovers of the Alberta oil sands for out-of-province attendees. The latter is open to the first 60 delegates from outside Alberta who register and pay to attend the conference, Ms. Snowden said. To be eligible for that tour, they must register by Aug. 15. “We’ll have a guide on the aircraft who will talk to us about the oilsands as we’re flying over them,” she said. “I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for anybody from eastern Canada in particular, our Toronto and Montreal core areas, to get to Edmonton and see what’s going on in Alberta’s north.” The carrier and the aircraft for the tour were still being worked out, said Norm Richard, the airport’s director of air service development. “There are actually two right now that are at the table,” said Mr. Richard, who is sharing conference emcee duties with Ms. Snowden. “We’re just trying to do the deal.”

Learn about Edmonton as an intermodal hub

Edmonton International Airport was chosen as the conference venue because of its location as an intermodal hub. The Queen Elizabeth II Highway – part of the Canamex Trade Corridor linking the Alaska Highway from Anchorage with the U.S. Interstate highway system to Mexico – passes between the airport and the adjacent Nisku Energy Industrial Park. Both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways have main lines through Edmonton, with a CP line also running parallel to the QE II. And the airport’s cargo village has loading docks that enable trucks to get within about thirty metres of aircraft on the tarmac, Mr. Richard said.

“We’re into well over $20 million invested through the development of the cargo village to house all different sectors of the air cargo industry, from airlines, through to freight forwarders, brokers, and warehousers,” he said. That investment includes a dedicated cargo apron, a new home for Canada Customs, and new facilities for CargoJet and Purolator, as well as for a third air cargo carrier that was still in negotiations with the airport. “So to have an opportunity to showcase all of this in front of a national audience and such a key part of the cargo supply chain is tremendous for us,” Mr. Richard said.

During the conference, delegates will be able to tour the energy park, the Leduc Business Park to the south, the airport’s cargo village, and the airport’s terminal expansion. The latter is significant, Mr. Richard said, “because cargo decision-makers are often some of the most frequent fliers.”

Before the airport doubled its terminal footprint in 2012, it was operating in excess of capacity by about a million passengers a year, which last year added up to 6.7 million passengers, as well as another half million passengers using non-terminal operations.

A growing presence in aviation

“This expansion takes us to the maximum capability of ten million,” Mr. Richard said. “So that is the objective we’re working towards is to get us to that ten million passenger count.”

Edmonton is Canada’s fifth busiest airport in passenger traffic, although only about half the volume of fourth place Calgary. For freight volumes, Edmonton ranked tenth in the country in 2011, according to Statistics Canada, with 22,995 tonnes, compared with 339,064 for first place Pearson, 186,385 for second place Vancouver, and 83,524 for fourth place Calgary.

“We’re fifth in Canada for passengers but have been identified by Airports Council International as consistently one of the fastest growing major airports in Canada for the last three years,” Mr. Richard said.

Among the obvious drivers of growth in the region are the oilsands. Other drivers include manufactured products from the area that are also being exported to markets such as Europe and South America. Agriculture and agrifood also have a significance presence near the airport in the form of the Food Processing Development Centre at Leduc, and the AgriValue Processing Business Incubator next door to it. “So there’s a tremendous amount of growth in those areas as well,” Mr. Richard said.

They weren’t for food, but thirty young bison flew out of Edmonton airport this March after being loaded on the new cargo apron. The animals were bound for a relocation project in the Siberian republic of Sakha. “It was actually part of a project with Parks Canada in finding a new home for this species that is being threatened,” Mr. Richard explained.

The cargo apron had an earlier test last fall when FedEx brought in two 777 charters from Cologne, Germany. That was a first for FedEx for Canada, Mr. Richard said. Overall, the economy is hot in Alberta, he said. And it’s not just a spike. He expects it will maintain that momentum for the next few decades. “Yet a lot of people in the industry are not aware,” he said. “Or if they’re aware, there’s a limited understanding as to exactly what’s happening and what it means in terms of logistics and transportation. That’s what the conference is all about.”

Alberta project cargo among keynote subjects

Among the expert speakers confirmed for the conference is Klaus Zerulla, Manager of international operations for Can-Tran Intl. Inc. Mr. Zerulla is scheduled to speak at 8:15 a.m. Sept. 26 on “Project Cargo in Alberta.” Following his presentation is an intermodal panel with Peter Ladouceur of CN and Ian Murray of Canadian Pacific. Keynote speakers on the opening day are Winfried Hartmann, Senior Vice-President of Sales and Customer Relations with Fraport AG, Frankfurt Airport Services Worldwide, and Myron Keehn, Vice-President of Commercial Development at Edmonton International Airport. Also confirmed are a Cargo Airline Discussion with Lisa-Marie Turpin of Air Canada, and presentations by Mathew Wilson, Vice-President of National Policy for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and Glen D. Vanstone, a Director with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation.

“It’s a real opportunity for all CIFFA members and international freight forwarders to focus on what opportunities are in Alberta,” Ms. Snowden said. “If you’re not in northern Alberta, why not?” CIFFA has 243 member freight forwarding companies and about 140 associate members that include lawyers, insurance companies, trucking companies, and air, rail and ocean carriers.

Hundreds of attendees expected

Ms. Snowden expects 100 to 150 delegates to arrive at the conference from outside Alberta and a like number of attendees from inside the host province. Mr. Richards said the conference is a “complete collaboration” between the airport and CIFFA that began with the airport inquiring about a membership CIFFA. The airport was interested in reaching CIFFA members to let them know about the airport and Alberta’s logistical possibilities. (According to the conference website, freight forwarding and logistics are an $11 billion industry in Canada.) CIFFA, meanwhile, saw an opportunity for educating its members about the unique opportunities for freight forwarders in western Canada, Mr. Richard said. “So it was really win-win on both sides,” he said. “We were both looking to educate each other without knowing it.” For more information on the conference, including details about registration fees, visit