DHL Express to create gateway at Hartsfield-Jackson

DHL cargo planes

DHL cargo planes

DHL Express plans to move into a new cargo building at Hartsfield-Jackson International and create a “gateway to the Southeast” as it expands its presence in the region.

DHL Express, which serves the U.S. market with only international shipments, saw a nearly 60% year-over-year increase in shipping volume in Atlanta for the March-July period as consumers increasingly shop online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s fair to say that individuals' buying behaviors for e-commerce has changed,” said DHL Express U.S. CEO Greg Hewitt. “We’re seeing huge amounts of flow as American buy items from Asia and Europe,” and as people overseas buy American goods.

UPS and FedEx, the two biggest U.S. shipping companies, also have seen explosive growth in demand for shipments.

Hewitt said DHL is growing its employee base in the Atlanta area by more than 29% and is starting to invest more in airport operations. ““We see Atlanta being really a growing market for us. We’re going to expand and create a gateway at Hartsfield-Jackson." He called Atlanta “really our gateway for the Southeast.”

DHL is moving from a smaller space on Toffie Terrace near Hartsfield-Jackson to the new Cargo Building C, and is adding the needed infrastructure for its operations there.

“DHL’s expansion into Cargo Building C is welcome and will increase their footprint here, add jobs and lead to more cargo flights into ATL,” Hartsfield-Jackson director of air service development Elliott Paige said in a written statement.

Hartsfield-Jackson’s 130,000-square-foot Cargo Building C has been in development since 2015. The $27.6 million construction project by JE Dunn was part of the airport’s long-envisioned plan to expand air cargo. It was originally expected to be operational in 2017, but leasing out the building took years. In September 2019, Atlanta City Council approved a 20-year lease with ground handler Worldwide Flight Services.

DHL is subleasing space from Worldwide Flight Services, according to Hewitt.

“We’ve wanted to have a bigger facility. Atlanta’s long been on our roadmap,” Hewitt said. He added that the company looked for airports where it could bring in goods from Asia and Europe, with “a good understanding” with Customs authorities.

“All that moved us towards Atlanta,” he said. “We think it will be kind of a growth center for the next decade.”

Eventually, the DHL plans to hire about 300 employees at the airport.

That’s in addition to about 120 jobs for couriers and dockworkers for DHL’s other operations in the Atlanta area. The company has facilities in Norcross, where it is expanding, as well as in Atlanta and Smyrna.

DHL has flights into Atlanta from its primary U.S. hub in Cincinnati, as well as from New York, and plans to add capacity for more shipping volume.

“Cincinnati is growing so fast and so big, we want to de-stress that by opening other gateways,” Hewitt said. “Atlanta is an attractive airport because of the number of commercial flights that come in."

DHL is booking cargo space on Delta Air Lines planes for this holiday peak season.

In addition to belly cargo space on its passenger planes, Atlanta-based Delta also has converted a Boeing 777-200 ER jet into a cargo-only freighter plane by removing the seats. Delta says it is operating more than 20 cargo-only flights a week.

By the fourth quarter of next year, DHL will “be in a position to be operating our own cargo fleet direct in from Europe and Asia, rather than have that come down from Cincinnati,” Hewitt said.

Some of the biggest areas of growth in goods coming from overseas are consumer electronics, clothing, medical equipment and personal protective equipment, he said.

Hartsfield-Jackson also plans to add a new air cargo facility in the airport’s South cargo area.