ACN Debates the Desired Role of Schiphol and its Home Carrier

The expectations of shippers and forwarders about Schiphol Airport and, above all, its home carrier KLM, were the main topic of debate at the 12th annual assembly of the Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN).

Panelists discussing the role of AMS and AF-KLMN Cargo (l > r): Bram Graeber, AF-KLM Cargo / Henk Venema, Goedis / Lars Droog, Tosoh/ACN  -  picture ms
Panelists discussing the role of AMS and AF-KLM Cargo (l > r): Bram Graeber, AF-KLM Cargo / Henk Venema, Geodis / Lars Droog, Tosoh/ACN

The shippers are one of the parties that are often missing in the debate, said Lars Droog, Manager Supply Chain & General Affairs at the Japanese chemical group Tosoh. In ACN Lars is the Vice-Chairman of the Airfreight and Express Council. As for the role of Schiphol, what the shippers need is a reliable, qualitative, high-level and affordable service to all relevant airports, providing sufficient lower and main deck capacity, he said. On top of this factor they would also like an environment of cooperation, transparency and innovation.

Referring to the Dutch government’s policy on trying to restrict the traffic rights of Middle-East carriers, the shippers advocate a more lenient attitude. “Their presence at Schiphol is very important if the airport wants to consolidate its position as a cargo gateway. Today, we see companies like Qatar and Emirates landing ‘our’ flowers in Brussels and Liege rather than at Schiphol.”

The present (traditional) air cargo model may not be ‘future-proof’ after all, Lars thinks. “The collaboration between shipper, logistic services provider and airline is still too fragmented. We should work towards achieving a desirable integrated triangular collaboration between the parties. Every stakeholder must take on their responsibility to contribute to a common optimised innovative logistic air cargo chain. Only then will the air cargo industry be able to preserve its rationale.”

The battle is fought on the ground
The forwarders’ point of view was represented by Henk Venema, Global Product Air at Geodis. In this sense, he sees a lot of airports and a lot of air cargo carriers, “and they all act in different ways,” he said. In reaction to the efforts to curtail the growth of ME carriers at Schiphol, he warned the authorities concerned that “the noose might eventually tighten itself.”

What really matters, according to freight forwarders, is that the battle is fought on the ground and not in the air. Differences in the quality of air cargo handling services make price no longer the only decisive factor. The home carrier should take the lead instead of being a mere follower, in the surcharge discussion as well as in the development of new products and e-services.”

The home carrier should also take the lead in the development of Schiphol as an air cargo hub, together with other stakeholders, said Henk. “The aim is to create a platform that will attract freight forwarders to develop gateways and special commodity hubs to Schiphol. Looking back makes no sense. Translating the wishes of the shipper into their own internal processes is the way forward. The first question an airline should ask the forwarder should be: what can I do for you?”

Bram Graeber  -  courtesy KLM
Bram Graeber - courtesy KLM

System integration stops at the airport gates
Having to react to all this, was AF-KLM Cargo’s new head Bram Graeber, who felt that he had some explaining to do after the drastic restructuring of his department during the last few months. According to Bram the competitive environment of Schiphol still stands. “There are over 25 freight carriers at Schiphol. Of all the airports in Europe we have the most diverse range of handling and trucking companies.”

Bram also said that, as far as system integration is concerned, some important steps have been made, even if they seem to stop at the airport’s gates. “So far, practically no one can claim to be a one-stop shop.” The air cargo business is still going through harsh conditions, Bram reminded the audience. “Up to 2000, growth in cargo was at 1.5 the rate of the growth in the passenger business, but it has dropped sharply. So it is becoming very difficult to fill the capacity. That is why we decided to get rid of most of our freighters. We had to face the brutal facts.”

AF-KLM Cargo wants to make the business easier
On the other hand, the AF-KLM network cannot function without cargo, he admitted. “We found, however, that our organisation was something that rather fitted the days of yesteryear, in which cargo carriers were a sort of supermarket that would offer almost everything. Theose days are over and choices had to be made. The combination ‘good, cheap and fast’ is no longer possible. We need to evolve towards a reliable product that can be produced cheaply.”

So the primary focus of AF-KLM Cargo will be on the belly, with the remaining freighters being deployed on routes that connect well to the Netherlands as well as support the perishables business. 

Getting back to the Schiphol discussion, Graeber said that in his opinion the airport works. “But if you want to increase competition by widening the access for foreign carriers, the first thing to look at is if they really add value.” In the same respect, Bram advocated better connectivity between the various cargo centres at the airport. As for his own company, AF-KLM Cargo wants to make its own processes less complex and more stable, he concluded. “We want to become easy to do business with. That is why our investments will be made mainly in information and communication technology.”

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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