AAPA Seaports Magazine, Fall 2018: Modal Deep Dive


Right now, AAPA’s members are in the midst of what has traditionally been “peak season” for ports. While consumers everywhere lament the arrival of retail holiday decorations at earlier and earlier dates each year, what they don’t realize is that the holiday season begins at ports while summer is still on the calendar.

* By Kurt J. Nagle, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities *

At peak season, ports are a dizzying sight – in bad years, vessels can be lined up off the coast, waiting for their turn at berth. In good years, marine terminals hum with seemingly nonstop operation, loading and unloading cargo that will soon end up on store shelves and holiday “hot items” lists. Economists and market watchers keep a close eye on the cargo moving through ports during this time of year, looking for signs and predictors of how consumer spending may play out in the coming months and which companies will do well during the important holiday retail season.

For ports, they can often only focus on the here and now – how things are going on the terminal today, the weather forecast for the next few days, bottlenecks that have materialized or worsened, solutions that were implemented earlier in the year and are now being put through the paces. It can be tough for ports to keep an eye on larger industry trends.

This issue of Seaports magazine is designed to make that one task easier for our members. We are doing a “modal deep-dive” into larger trends happening in vessels, trucks, rail and cargo-handling equipment, giving ports the insight and information they need to have a larger perspective while focused on the crucial small details of day-to-day operations.

Changes occurring in cargo handling equipment are changing the face of labor at marine terminals. As equipment becomes more automated and fuel efficient, operating and servicing this equipment requires a different skill set for longshoremen and others.

For oceangoing vessels, the important nugget continues to be the increasing size of ships. While economists predict that vessels may soon reach a point where efficiency and cost are maximized, the industry is by no means static. Larger vessels keep coming online, creating a set of expectations and demands at ports and pushing ripples of change down through the industry.

In the rail sector, the importance of short-line and on-dock rail continues to grow as ports seek to deal with congestion and environmental challenges posed by high volumes of truck traffic. Ports are looking to rail as a strategic tool to accomplish multiple objectives at once, giving them options that were previously unavailable or cost inefficient.

Trucking is confronting sweeping changes taking place in the fuel sector. In the past, trucking was strictly a diesel operation, but now, options such as LNG and CNG, hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid electric are on the table as real possibilities. How quickly and widely they are adopted remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the industry is on the cusp of sea change.

While there is no single change taking place through all the modes, there are many shifts happening that are likely to have significant impact for ports in the coming months and years.

This issue of Seaports is meant to provide that larger sense of perspective on the various modes that make their home on marine terminals, moving the cargo that is so vital to our hemisphere’s economies. In the midst of what I hope will be a successful peak season for all AAPA members, I hope this issue of Seaports can help ports and their solution providers keep an eye on the bigger picture and larger trends while still tending to the demands of the here and now.