Brussels Airport Demonstrates Resilience After ET Pull-out

The decision of Ethiopian Airlines Cargo to move its operations from Brussels Airport to Maastricht will put the Brussels volume in the red for the first time in a very long period, says Head of Cargo Steven Polmans.

Steven Polmans, Head of Cargo at Brussels Airport Company (MAS)
Steven Polmans, Head of Cargo at Brussels Airport Company (MAS)

“In October, ET was our largest customer full cargo customer,” says Steven. “They were also planning to introduce additional flights, becoming even more important for us. So if we do not gain other business, this will have an effect on our volumes in 2016, where we now expect a small setback.” He is not too certain on the possible temporary character of the move. “If the MAA operation runs well and ET is offered better conditions, they may consider a more permanent stay and additional flights. Apparently, they are also considering to start moving Liege flights to Maastricht.”

Disappointing loss
Steven does not hide his disappointment over the loss, even though he does not seem to be too beaten. “I would love to have ET back, but if this had happened 5 years ago it would have been a lot worse. Today we have more customers and a stronger business case, but the ET volume was important to DHL Global Forwarding and DHL Global Forwarding is very important to us.”

Losing volumes also means losing employment. “Studies, both by ACI as well as the University of Antwerp and the National Bank of Belgium, have revealed that every ton of cargo generates around 100 direct jobs. Air cargo is a very labour intensive kind of work, often carried out by unskilled workers. These processes cannot be automated.” So, instead of permanently running down on the airport, the Authorities and the Brussels Region better cherish it, states the manager. “ET’s departure will certainly cost jobs, which we hopefully can offset with some new customers such as Emirates that serves Brussels since early November.”

Emirates might fill the gap
Adding to its belly capacity, Emirates SkyCargo has brought two of its B777 freighters to Brussels twice a week on the return leg Chicago, Brussels, Dubai. One third of the capacity has been allotted to Brussels. According to Steven, Emirates is considering another two stops at Brussels as of early next year. Not so long ago and for a very long time, that other Middle-East Carrier, Saudia Cargo, was Brussels Airport’s top client. In the old days, Saudia would bring up to 23 flights to the airport. Today it’s only 5. “But we keep on fighting for both ET and Saudia”, says Steven. As we do for any other customer. We have shown that we can compensate the loss in volumes due to the departure of some carriers, as we can offer healthy underlying cargo flows.”

Pharma is doing well
Brussels Airport is certainly not throwing in the towel. The set-up of the pharma logistics community is bearing fruit. By the beginning of next year, some 20 companies will have joined the community, cemented by the certification within the IATA-supported Centre of Excellence of Independent Validators (CEIV).

“This is not an IATA programme”, says Steven. “It was drawn up by the pharma shippers and ourselves and disseminated by IATA. The criteria are set by the shippers and ignoring this programme is ignoring the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.”

Community building is a key issue in pharma
Steven adds that getting certified is a serious process. “Even companies that have already been certified under a Good Distribution Practices (GDP) regime seem to be having a hard time to get CEIV-certified. We see a strong growth in the pharma segment. The participants in the programme are very enthusiastic. Therefore, it is not just about paying some training and getting a certificate as some suggest. Soon we will also launch another initiative, offering temperature controlled transport on the tarmac. For this, we have joined a partnership with an equipment provider developing a passive dolly system.”

Community building is a burning issue at the airport and an umbrella organisation is in the make. “Statutes and logo are being designed. It will be something like Schiphol’s ACN. The new organisation will swallow up the present BRUcargo Strategic Committee. We will be able to bring together the real air cargo community at Brussels Airport.”

Cloud-based platform
Alongside the umbrella organisation, a Cargo Community Platform is taking shape. Developed by Nallian, it is a cloud-based system of individual applications that are linked to one another. “We are building an open system, easy to use. At the end of November we are launching a pilot project on slot and gate allocation for delivery at landside level. Two large forwarders, one handler and one large trucking company are taking part.”

Both the platform and the umbrella organisation are part of a set of 20 projects identified as steps in the way forward in a study made by the Flemish Institute of Logistics (VIL) in 2010. The report was published under the title ‘BRUcargo Secured Gateway’, suggesting that fencing off BRUcargo was its main focus. “We are for the moment not going to put a fence around the BRUcargo site,” says Steven. “Studies have revealed that the benefits do not make up for the cost. Instead of closing off centrally, we have opted for fencing off the new plots individually. Security will also be strengthened by other initiatives. Currently we are also studying CCTV with license plate recognition.”

New BRUcargo
The rejuvenated BRUcargo is also taking shape. A great deal of the old buildings have been pulled down and replaced by new infrastructure. Panalpina, for instance, is expanding its facilities with a pharma-dedicated warehouse. And there is, of course, the construction of the new regional hub for DHL Express. “This is one of the largest real estate projects in the Benelux”, says Steven. “These companies would not invest if they would not believe in what we are doing. They too are taking a long-term commitment.”

As for the air part of the business, South America remains a blind spot. “It is a difficult market. The economies are slowing down and what we need is a carrier having 5th freedom rights. We keep on talking to various parties.”

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Maxime (Saturday, 28 November 2015 12:25)

    ET is not merely considering moving flights from Liège to Maastricht, it is already doing so. 3 of 12 weekly flights will come to Maastricht per 29/11: http://www.tijd.be/ondernemen/luchtvaart/Na_Zaventem_verliest_ook_Luik_cargovluchten_van_Ethiopian_Airlines.9704245-3085.art