HubExpress is Air France Cargo’s Ray of Hope

The Société Développement Express International (SoDExI) has become Air France Cargo’s flagship project in order to obtain a larger size of the thriving e-Commerce cake. A much needed initiative making a mark on the French-Dutch cargo carrier’s painful and long-lasting journey to get out of the red somewhere in the near future.

SoDExI’s HUBExpress at CDG  /  source pictures: hs
SoDExI’s HUBExpress at CDG / source pictures: hs

Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo hasn’t been much noted by the industry in recent times for being very innovative. Ongoing financial upheavals, downscaling of the freighter fleet and personnel changes at the top level dominated the headlines.
Now, however, the seven lean and unpleasant years may have started to end, at least partially, evident by the leading managers’ enthusiasm when presenting the media their new HubExpress project at the Hilton Hotel near Roissy airport. This €22 million state-of-the-art facility set up at CDG airport enables the throughput of up to 6,000 express shipments per hour, giving aircraft-to-aircraft transits a remarkable velocity. “Air-air processing of single shipments needs between 1 to 1.5 hours, not more,” assures SoDExI’s CEO Jérôme Balbi. His company is jointly owned by Air France (65%) and Geopost/DPD (35%).

Speedier flow
Judging by first impressions the HubExpress project will remarkably speed up the flow of goods, lead to enhanced product quality and should lower costs due to the automation of sorting that requires limited manpower. Packages weighing up to 32 kilograms or of dimensions measuring 130x90x80 centimeters can be processed. 
Eelco van Asch hit the nail on the head by stating: "It’s not only about flying aircraft but ground activities that make the big difference in air freight," emphasized Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo’s Senior VP Sales and Distribution while presenting the project.

SoDExiI’s CEO Jérôme Balbi and customer service manager Valérie Vaity
SoDExiI’s CEO Jérôme Balbi and customer service manager Valérie Vaity

Transits need no more than 5’
Aircraft carrying express shipments are parked only a stone’s throw away from the sorting facility for enabling the fastest possible transit of goods from plane via sorting center to plane. “It takes no more than 5 minutes to transfer the shipments from an aircraft to our HubExpress,” notes Jérôme.
He added to this that being a European carrier “we cannot compete with Emirates’ rapidly rising capacity and workplace conditions for staff. However, we can be in the forefront of technology enabling us to organize our processes in the smartest possible way.”
The HubExpress at CDG that started operating at the end of March is a visible result of this strategic thinking. The facility built by industrial engineering group Fives Cinetics is equipped with 8 gates for incoming shipments, 41 container stands and large rows of parcel sorters where items arriving by conveyor belt are mechanically separated according to their final destination. “It basically reminds of a sorting centre operated by integrators, offering lesser throughput capacity but built according to our specific requirements,” describes SoDExI Chief Jérôme.

AF-KL-MP Cargo’s helmsman Bram Graeber
AF-KL-MP Cargo’s helmsman Bram Graeber

IT steering of utmost importance
AF-KL-MP Cargo helmsman Bram Graeber emphasized the importance of IT, by saying that all flows are electronically controlled from beginning to end. “This way the constant visibility of the shipment’s whereabouts is guaranteed.” In the case of future commercial demands the facility could be enlarged by simply adding new segments to the HubExpress.
Further Bram assured that cargo is and will in future remain being a key activity for his airline with his division focusing primarily on high-yield goods such as express or pharma. Particularly the express segment, “we are eager to jointly develop together with partnering courier firms and integrators, such as Geopost/DPD and FedEx,” he announced.

Aiming at e-Commerce
The manager spoke of “awful financial results” in the past but maintained that the freight division will be in the black by 2017. Asked about the expected financial contribution by the HubExpress he remained rather vague. Instead, he emphasized some fundamental findings that e-Commerce tends to increasingly outgrow other products transported by air. "Thanks to our new HubExpress run by SoDExI we are well positioned to capture an increasing chunk of the fast growing e-Commerce segment," Bram resumed. 
Touching on the announcement made by Alitalia concerning the termination of ties with AF-KL he remained very relaxed. The manager stated: “Part of the agreement signed by both sides is for closely cooperating in cargo. We will continue marketing their holds until 2017 when the existing contract expires. But that’s still far away, almost close to eternity.”

Heiner Siegmund

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