Exclusive - Schiphol Airport’s New Cargo Head points the Way Ahead

On 1 August Jonas van Stekelenburg succeeded Enno Osinga as Schiphol Airport’s Head of Cargo. CargoForwarder Global seized this opportunity to have him elaborate on the airport’s cargo vision.

Jonas van Stekelenburg succeeded Enno Osinga as head of Schiphol Cargo -  pictures AMS
Jonas van Stekelenburg succeeded Enno Osinga as head of Schiphol Cargo - pictures AMS

A lawyer by training - a profession he followed for sometime in his career  - Jonas will help maintain and improve Schiphol’s impressive volume of 1.6 million tonnes. “Imports and exports are more or less equally balanced,” he says. “I think we stand out against other major airports such as CDG, Heathrow and Frankfurt because, compared to them, we have a small hinterland. Yet we are successful in feeding from all over Europe, even from Scandinavia, France and Italy.”

Contrary to other airports, Schiphol has – so far – never been keen to invite a major integrator onto the airport. As the new kid on the block, Jonas prefers not to comment on a strategy defined before his time. “All I can say is that we will reveal Amsterdam Schiphol’s new strategy early December. But if you look at Leipzig, the DHL business is supported by an extensive number of night operations, for which we do not have the noise capacity. We do work with integrators and we are certainly not against them, especially since their operations are becoming increasingly interwoven with the rest of the air cargo industry.”

Threatening maritime options
Historically, Schiphol has always been the major import gateway for flowers, a commodity important enough to make AF-KLM maintain some full-freighter operations. On the other hand, in this business too, shippers are looking for cheaper transport solutions and maritime alternatives seem to pop up at regular intervals.

Jonas: “Schiphol is progress-driven, and we will certainly not oppose any attempt to ship flowers in an efficient and environment-friendly way. The question is: how fast will it go? We still see all these flows coming in. I think it also has to do with Dutch entrepreneurship, as many of the flower growers are Dutch. Some time back they took their business from Holland to Africa. The cake has got bigger and we can all take advantage of it. A recent report by Buck Consultants International has identified Schiphol as the best airport for flower logistics, thanks to its speed and temperature control.”

Pharma strategy
On the other hand, Schiphol seems to have been by-passed by other airports like Brussels as a major pharma hub. “My compliments to (Brussels Airport’s) Steven Polmans, who has succeeded in bringing the stakeholders together in IATA’s CEIV (Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators) concept, rather than GDP (Good Distribution Practice) . “We also want to create added value and we think there are a lot of GDP-certified parties in the chain. It is for the market to decide which system (CEIV or GDP) it will support. Brussels Airport has done extremely well in this niche, so we will try to copy that.”

Van Stekelenburg: “At Schiphol we first look at KLM.”
Van Stekelenburg: “At Schiphol we first look at KLM.”

According to various forecasts, Africa is a continent to be watched. Jonas partially seems to agree with some caution though. “Today Kenya is our second largest cargo destination, for imports mainly. So on the export side the capacity remains. This traffic is not entirely point to point, it also involves some laps, even including the Middle East. Africa has been promising for a long time, but it all depends on the strength of the economies. Compared to what happened in China, it has started out quite modestly and in a very fragmented way. The flows are of an altogether different nature than Asia’s. We are looking at fruit from South-Africa. Shell is pulling back from Nigeria to some extent. Trade with Africa will hopefully become much easier and more voluminous: hi-tech- and e-commerce related, oil equipment etc.”

What about KLM?
Ever since the early days of air transport, the fates of Schiphol Airport and KLM have been closely knit. The downsizing of the carrier’s full-freighter operation is closely watched. “It has brought about a lot of tension and it is a nasty business for the hub airport. KLM and SkyTeam, including passengers, account for  roughly 70% of our turnover. I get along very well with Bram Graeber. Apparently AF-KLM wants to focus on belly, to which is directing its investments for improving infrastructure and automation. Of course, we fully endorse this strategy, as Schiphol owes its success and its growth to the hub carrier.”

This commitment to KLM has given Schiphol the reputation of being ill-disposed toward foreign carriers, mainly from the Middle-East, to gain a foothold at Schiphol. The discussion on the LCAG flower flights is another example. “We are not ill-disposed to this. Traffic rights are granted by the Ministry of Transport, so this is a political decision. The situation at Schiphol is different from Maastricht, which is open to all. At Schiphol we first look at KLM. We do not want to allow anybody to come and try a new concept, supported by low rates. If they pull out after two years, we will have to dispose of the debris. So the question you should ask is: what brings in added value, the answer to that being: not necessarily more capacity and more players. The discussion is on what is good for your hub and it remains a difficult one. Do not expect  a great breakthrough in this respect.”

In 2014 Schiphol’s cargo volume grew by 7%. “Up to this October, it has fallen back a bit, but it seems to pick up again. So we hope for a figure comparable to last year’s.” Asked about the possible growth markets, Jonas immediately mentions South-America. “For the rest it is difficult to predict. Both China and Russia are lagging behind. The US has been doing well for months, but there have been some sort of disruptions.”

Schiphol Airport is among the forerunners in e-supported procedures and the implementation of its eLink system is well on its way. “Even so, it is difficult to explain to the market where the benefits are to be found, says Jonas. “Basically, we all agree. What is needed are strong business cases that clearly demonstrate to what extent they can contribute to the overall vision. If the shippers feel that they can operate in a cheaper way without eLink, the decision is theirs. So you have to design tomorrow’s business cases.”

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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