Cargo is Brussels Airlines’ “Darling Business”

Air freight accounts for 16 percent of the revenues on all intercontinental flights operated by the Belgian carrier. It could be even more in case additional capacity for transporting shipments would be offered to the market. There are slight chances that this might happen before the summer of this year.

Senegal operations contribute ¼ to Brussels Cargo’s revenues on all northbound flights out of Africa  /  source: hs
Senegal operations contribute ¼ to Brussels Cargo’s revenues on all northbound flights out of Africa / source: hs

One has to rub their eyes when hearing these figures. Southbound Brussels Cargo reports an overall load factor of between 90 to 95 percent year round. Northbound from Africa into Europe it varies seasonally but averages 80-plus percent. The same accounts for flights from Brussels to New York and Washington, with operations in the opposite direction being booked somewhat weaker.

It doesn’t need much fantasy to identify that the carrier’s cargo transport from Europe to sub-Sahara destinations is its money maker. Although Head of Cargo Herman Hoornaert remains vague when touching financial figures: “In cargo we’ve achieved a net profit somewhere in the middle of a double-digit million euro amount.” More he can’t say with respect to the airline’s upcoming annual conference taking place on 13. March.

All in all Brussels Cargo serves 17 destination located in the sub-Sahara region, deploying Airbus A330 passenger aircraft, of which the airline currently operates eight. The African links are complemented by flights with A320 or A319 equipment to Agadir and Marrakesh in Morocco.

Demand surpasses capacity
Brussels Cargo’s darling station in sub-Sahara is the Senegalese capital Dakar accounting for ¼ of the entire revenues generated on northbound flights from Africa into Brussels.
Although Herman Hoornaert fiercely rejects any assessment that his division is having a luxury problem, the manager admits however the bold fact that market demand quite often exceeds the transport capacity offered by his carrier. “Yes, on certain trade lanes we would be happy if we’d have sufficient belly space to carry more tonnage,” confirms the manager.
One example is the Ugandan capital Entebbe “where we could lift fifty or even sixty tons each week in addition to the consignments already flown by us,” Herman illustrates. Dakar in Senegal and the fish biz there is another hotspot on the carrier’s African map where demand by shippers and forwarders is higher at peak times from December to April and again between July and September, than what can be stowed in the lower deck compartments of Brussels Airlines’ fleet of A330s.

Herman Hoornaert  / source: Brussels Cargo
Herman Hoornaert / source: Brussels Cargo

Theory vs. reality
One option to overcome these bottlenecks would be a closer cooperation with partner LH Cargo. This, because some of the carrier’s Latin America rotations on the way back to Frankfurt are routed via Dakar. “On these flights we offer a capacity of up to ten tons,” states Habibou Sene, LH Cargo’s Director for Senegal.

However, as the airline keeps its flight schedule flexible and steers according to the individual demand changes in the flight plan occur frequently. This can affect the transport plans of Senegalese shippers and forwarders. “Because some of our flights to Brazil go on to Ecuador to pick up flowers and from there they are routed back to Frankfurt,” he says. Due to this demand-driven pattern resulting in casually changing flight plans it is not easy to guarantee local Senegalese exporters and their agents certain pallet position for loading their goods on the Dakar to Frankfurt freighter flights, the manager states.
The reason, why quite a number of the Latin America services are landing at Quito before returning to Frankfurt seems to be simple: Yields for flowers and vegetables from South America must obviously be higher than the prices achievable for beans or mangos in Dakar.

Reinout Puissant / source: hs
Reinout Puissant / source: hs

Reinout tries it all again
But that’s not the end of the story yet. Reinout Puissant, Brussels Cargo’s Regional African Head of Sales has just commenced a second approach to at least utilize the lower deck capacity of some of the flights operated by the MD-11Fs at DKR. This would be best on Mondays and Wednesdays when the LH freighters return from Buenos Aires to Europe.


From Lufthansa Group’s perspective this could indeed make sense: In order to serve the increasingly demanding customers with their ad-hoc requests it would be best to act as a group which leads to more flexibility and assures that capacity is assured to clients. It is a matter of keeping the customer in the airline portfolio rather than the forwarder portfolio.

Habibou Séne  /  source: hs
Habibou Séne / source: hs

This would enable more integrated transport solutions from a shipper and airline standpoint and enhance capacity planning processes according to demand predominantly during peak seasons for perishables flown out of Africa as industry experts say.

Entebbe is calling
Another opportunity to mutually capitalize on the African market is Entebbe in Uganda. According to well informed sources some cargo experts within the Lufthansa Group have already suggested the idea to possibly redirect one of the Johannesburg - Frankfurt freighters by landing in Entebbe instead of Nairobi. In Uganda the Lufthansa Cargo aircraft could grab quite an amount of the local volume bound to Europe and Brussels could co-load some consignments flown in from Kigali or Bujumbura on their triangle flights to those areas.

So time will tell what results the Africa link of Brussels Cargo and LH Cargo might produce, if any at all. Hopeful might be a recent indication by LH Cargo’s Andreas Otto. The member of the Executive Board admitted having neglected Africa in the past, announcing stepping up his carrier’s commitment between sub-Sahara and South Africa.

This could Brussels Cargo also eventually do as well. People close to the case revealed to CargoForwarder Global there are plans in the drawer to pact with a main deck capacity provider on certain routes to offer the market additional capacity on trade lanes from Belgium to Africa. The project is still in its preliminary stage but expected to commence before this summer. It looks like Herman and Reinout will soon have the appropriate answer to offer the market additional air freighting options.
Please stay tuned.

Heiner Siegmund