If you are a shipper of seafood or any other perishable products, Gateway Facilities ULC at Halifax Stanfield International Airport can offer you some cold comfort. Literally! The 40,000-square foot warehouse facility opened in June 2010, contains 7,000 square feet of temperature controlled space just minutes from waiting cargo aircraft. It is a feature unique to Atlantic Canada, and in fact, unique all the way down the east coast to Florida.

“What makes Gateway unique,” says Doug McRae, who along with partner Steve Christiansen developed the facility, is this is a multi-tenant warehouse with lots of cold storage located on a runway apron. “We can bring the aircraft from the runway and park it adjacent to the refrigerated space. The advantage of that is we receive the cargo from the exporters, we immediately build the loads in air containers or on pallets in the refrigerated space,” he said. When the cargo is ready, it is moved to the aircraft just two minutes away.

“It might take another five or ten minutes get it on the plane but once on the plane, like a Cargojet aircraft for example, which is refrigerated, you really do have what I call a legitimate cold chain,” said McRae. “In a lot of places, carriers and ground handlers will say they have cool space but they certainly can’t refrigerate 30 to 40 tonnes like we can,” he said. Temperature in the facility is controlled according to the perishable products inside but normal operation is between 2 degrees and 5 degrees Celsius, said McRae, and the facility can serve up to three aircraft at one time.

McRae said the only two other airports he was able to find that operate cold storage facilities next to a runway were in Miami and Los Angeles. For Atlantic Canada, which is major shipper of fresh and live seafood, the $8 million facility is a major plus. Halifax airport handled approximately 29,000 tonnes of air cargo in 2011. Airport officials say approximately 60 per cent of that was perishable goods and although McRae didn’t want to release figures, he did acknowledge that a substantial percentage the perishable products are moved through Gateway Facilities.

Halifax International Airport Authority, which worked with Gateway on the project developing the apron and taxi way, knows the critical value of Gateway Facilities. “Having 7,000 square feet of advanced temperature-controlled cargo space immediately adjacent to our newly-extended main runway (8,800 feet to 10,500 feet) gives Halifax Stanfield a terrific advantage in shipping perishable goods,” said Jerry Staples, the Authority’s Vice-President Air Service Development and Marketing. “Being the closest major North American airport to Europe, sitting on one of the world’s richest seafood resources, having no operational curfew restrictions and offering 24/7 customs service, further enhances the many advantages we offer exporters and importers.”

There has been increased cargo business through the airport in the past few years and airport officials attribute much of the increase to Gateway Facilities. However, McRae wasn’t quick to take credit. “We have seen a substantial increase in China starting to consume significant quantities of Canadian lobster and we have experienced growth as result of that,” he said. “But really what we have achieved here, in addition to that growth, is the quality of the product arriving overseas as result of being handled properly. It is to everybody’s advantage, from the harvesters, to the exporters, to the freight forwarders to the carriers and the importers, because if you are doing a better job maintaining temperature, then the results are better,” he said.

Gateway Facilities handles cargo for five carriers on a daily basis and during peak periods, like Christmas, brings in additional carriers to handle the greater lobster demand, up to 500 tonnes or about five, 747 loads, mostly to Europe.

There are discussions underway with two additional dedicated cargo carriers that are keen on the cold storage available at Gateway. The discussions are serious but it is “Really about creating the business model to bring them in,” said McRae. And bringing them in would mean into the cold.