Exclusive - Dutch Air Freight Managers Slam KLM’s Handling of Martinair Integration

The Dutch national carrier has been much in the news of late, especially with regards to its relationship with Air France and its decision to drastically reduce its freighter operations.
The freighter reductions have been mainly aimed at getting rid of the Martinair fleet of MD-11Fs and possibly also their four Boeing 747 freighters. As a second step, the phasing out of the “Combi-fleet” is planned.

There are indications KLM might phase out their 17 Boeing 747-400 Combi aircraft / source: hs
There are indications KLM might phase out their 17 Boeing 747-400 Combi aircraft / source: hs

Top Dutch air freight managers slam KLM
Now, the Dutch airfreight managers have come out with heavy criticism of KLM’s so called restructuring of Martinair and the cargo product in general.
This was clearly stated by top managers in an article published last week in the Dutch transport magazine, “Nieuwsblad Transport.”
They claim that the plan to restructure Martinair has little substance and therefore does not lead to giving them confidence in KLM Cargo for the future.
One manager who requested to remain anonymous stated that “we have not yet issued a certificate of incompetence for the (KLM) management, but we are not far from it.”

Management invisibility
The Dutch airfreight community is stating that they have in no way been consulted by the Dutch national carrier as to the future of the country’s air cargo market after the decision to cut back its freighter capacity.
Camiel Eurlings, who until last week was CEO of KLM, comes under particular fire from the air freight managers at Schiphol airport.
It is claimed that when he was on seat as CEO, that he was almost invisible. In the eyes of the air freight managers this was already apparent to the to the trade and this was when he was also head of cargo at the airline back in 2011.
Many agents, including a former manager of market leader DHL, say that they have not seen the heads of KLM Cargo during the past few years and that things were much different in the past.
They further claim that before 2011 that KLM Cargo managers made a point of regular visits to the agents in order to discuss opportunities, ideas and the problems facing the air freight community.
“Those managers knew exactly what was going on. Today, that is not so anymore,” states the ex-DHL manager.

Strategic mistakes?
One owner of a Dutch freight company is quoted as saying that “getting rid of Martinair’s sales department after its acquisition by KLM, is seen by most as a major strategic mistake” by the national carrier.
That decision in his eyes has led to KLM to lose flexibility as well as a valuable outpost in the air freight market.
He becomes even more blunt by claiming that the present sales department at KLM is one which is “clumsy” and staffed by “career guys.” He goes on to say that “in those days one could read and write with the KLM guys. Now they barely speak our language.”

Strong criticism came from Sjoerd van Loon, CEO of IJS Global and who for years also held positions at leading agents such as AEI, Exel and DHL. He regrets that KLM has not consulted the Schiphol freight agents in their thoughts and plans for the cargo reorganization. “We must pull along together,” he states and adds that the decision to reduce to only three cargo aircraft “affects the position of our national airport.” He himself cannot see the rational thinking in these plans and adds further “I think the market will not accept these half-hearted measures.”

Does the Dutch pilots union maybe have better plans?
The Association of Dutch pilots have apparently put up a plan which includes KLM operating at least six B747-400Fs in the future.
The overall feeling, be it from the freight agents or the pilots, seems to be that someone has now finally to come up with a firm plan which will keep KLM in the air freight market and that this be put into motion and guided by “experienced cargo managers who know what the market needs.”
Either that - or just offering the market belly capacity.
The latter would in many agents eyes lead to a serious demise of Schiphol as an international air cargo hub.

Peter Mulder, Managing Director of Reibel Holding is following the (lack of) developments with mixed feelings. He is wondering why KLM has not made timely investments in new freighters, knowing well that the Martinair MD-11Fs should have been replaced some time back as they are too expensive to operate.
He sadly states that in the meantime there are plenty of “foreign rivals” operating out of Schiphol to fill the legacy left by Martinair.

Martinair pioneered the routes that others now fly
The above is sad, but true.
Martinair was a market leader in developing the flower traffic out of South America through Amsterdam. Peter Mulder for one, would dearly like to continue the business with MP, but in the meantime he needs to carry on and has up to four jumbo freighters per week on this sector with Atlas Air. He claims that KLM has priced themselves out of the market in the meantime and that there is no other alternative but to look elsewhere.

Some also feel that the transfer of Bram Graber and Matthijs ten Brink to Transavia was a big mistake and to the detriment of the cargo product. “That was a conscious choice by KLM, but it was not good for the freight arm of the company,” says Mulder.

Is it too late?
Maybe not - some think so at least.
However, two disturbing aspects are also apparent in all of this.
The Dutch government had always advocated a long term strategy of Holland as a distribution country. Has that strategy been put onto the sidelines? We don‘t recognize any reactions, protests on this situation from within these circles.
The second point is the Schiphol airport management who were allegedly quoted as saying that “cargo will fly anyway.” If this quote is fact, then it’s a very shortsighted reaction. Of course the cargo will fly, but at what cost for the Dutch airport. Will much of it shift to other airports?
Any home carrier brings a list of valuable infrastructure influence with it and that ranges from operational, handling, trucking, customs etc. etc.
There, jobs are at stake.
If AF/KL Cargo have a willingness to invest in some form of modern freighter fleet and be competitive on the market, then there would be support from the Dutch freight community for the carrier.
However - it does not seem likely that will happen as the cards have been already mixed in Paris as far as the cargo product is concerned.

John Mc Donagh

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Enno Osinga (Tuesday, 28 October 2014 15:51)

    Let me put the comment from Schiphol in perspective. The current decision of KLM to phase out the MD11 will in 2015 impact 1% of the cargo volume at the Airport. Given our current year to date growth figures of 8.1%, which is way above the growth of the other main European hubs we are confident that this volume loss will be compensated by KLM in the remainig freigthers and belly capacity as well as other airlines in existing or additional capacity. Schiphol remains the very succesfull third largest Air Cargo hub in Europe and has over the last years solidly increased its market share.