Traffic rights allowing Ethiopian Cargo (ET) to fly directly from Brussels Airport to Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong have provoked an angry reaction by TNT Airways, which serves these destinations from nearby Liege Airport. As the ET flights are operated in close collaboration with DHL, competitor TNT fears adverse effects on the take-over process by FedEx.
According to the Belgian French-language economic daily L’Echo, the flights were granted directly by the federal Transport Minister Jacqueline Galant and not by the national aviation authority.
TNT Airways CEO Lars Jordahn is quoted as saying that even if Ms Gallant insists that there is no competition between the two operations, she is wrong. “Her decision may very well devalue TNT in
the acquisition process by FedEx.” Local politicians in the Liege region also fear a direct impact on the employment at the airport.
ET flights are not harming TNT, claims StarBroker
The operator is not DHL but StarBroker, the in-house carrier of DHL Global Forwarding. This division purchases blocked space on scheduled or full charter flights on behalf of DHL Global Forwarding branches in Europe. “StarBroker is not part of DHL Express and does not carry express cargo,” says Peter Karreman VP EMEA of StarBroker AG. “So any link to the Express activities at Brussels Airport is incorrect. The charter flights of Ethiopian Airlines carry 100% DHL Global Forwarding cargo. None of that cargo ever moved or will ever move on the TNT network and consequently is not endangering employment at TNT/Liege.”
Business returns to Belgium
In fact, thanks to this operation, ET and StarBroker have managed to bring cargo to Belgium which had previously been shipped from other airports, says Peter. “It moved on Air Cargo Germany from Hahn (which bit the dust last year) and KLM Cargo from Amsterdam prior to ending their service to Dubai & Hong Kong last March.” The manager went on to say: “So we created new jobs in Belgium.”
StarBroker has doubled its throughput at Brussels Airport since its new facility at BRUcargo opened in early 2013. As a result, Brussels Airport welcomed this year not only Ethiopian Airlines but also Chinese cargo carrier Yangtze River Express.”
“Customers now demand again direct flights from Europe, and wish to skip the technical stop in Addis Ababa. StarBroker and Ethiopian Airlines will offer customers such a service, from Belgium or any other neighboring country.” Peter also wants to point out that Ethiopian Airlines has been a partner for DHL/StarBroker since 2008 and initially operated from Brussels Airport with one 757F. “Just to recall, it was originally Liege Airport who took the business away from Brussels Airport.”
Escalating conflict over traffic rights
Contacted by CargoForwarder Global, Lars Jordahn reacts by stating that the recently reviewed bilateral air services agreement between Belgium and Ethiopia mentions Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong as exceptions to the destinations ET is allowed to fly. He also wants to remind of the fact that TNT had already gone to court over this issue back in 2013. “Ms Gallant has violated this agreement by allowing ET to fly these destinations by-passing the aviation authority,” he claims. “We will consider all avenues to clarify and advise our position to the Belgian government. We are interested to see how they will react. Any change in a bilateral aviation agreement is subject to a study on its economic necessity. No European carrier is challenging us for the rights to these three destinations.”
Entering the next stage
Peter Karreman admits that the bilateral agreement indeed makes an exception for Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong. “It was agreed, however, that further engagements would be made at a later date. Ms Gallant has decided to disregard this and as such she is doing nothing illegal. The traffic rights she has granted do not apply to scheduled flights, but to charter operations. These are very irregular. Not even half of the rights have actually been filled in. And on top of this, the Ethiopian aviation authority has written to its Belgian counterpart to ask for the addition of the three destinations to the bilateral agreement.”
So it seems that the conflict over ET Cargo’s traffic rights will enter its next stage.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels