Liege Airport Advocates Total Liberalisation of the Air Cargo Market

In the discussion on the move of Ethiopian Cargo from Brussels to Maastricht many parties are pointing the finger at Liege Airport. In a reaction the airport’s Business Development Manager Steven Verhasselt says that LGG is anything but protectionist: “We are in favour of opening up the air cargo market!”

Steven Verhasselt, Business Development Manager Liege Airport  -  credit: ms
Steven Verhasselt, Business Development Manager Liege Airport - credit: ms

“The cargo business means that airlines generally fly on behalf of different clients and fly to and from various airports located anywhere in the world in order to meet the demand of these same customers,” says Steven. “Some operators also call upon different companies to ensure the necessary flights to meet their customers’ demands, sometimes for long-term contracts, sometimes on an ad hoc basis.”
 
“As for express couriers, their activity must be embraced globally from the start. In order to remain competitive, cargo airlines must be free to operate in the market with equivalent rules wherever they go and wherever they are coming from. It is essential to their survival in an increasingly demanding market in terms of connectivity and the constant driving down of costs.”

Complex networks
Steven points out that cargo airlines nowadays operate in a universe with complex networks that have been designed to meet logistical needs that are just as complex and constantly evolving as those of their clients and their clients’ clients. “Therefore, the more active companies an airport has, the greater the business development opportunities which stand to benefit the airlines, airports, the economy and employment.”

Within this context, the age-old system of bilateral agreements (which does not exist in the ocean freight industry, MS), is surely a thing of the past. “The existing system appears to run counter to the way in which cargo operations are currently handled. The current rules create a distortion of competition between operators from different countries,” Steven argues. “It is not based on economic criteria, but on the clauses of bilateral agreements between states that often reflect a situation in the past or willingness to implement protectionist rules in favour of one airline or another. The existence of these restrictions is no longer justified in a global market such as the cargo industry which is critical to global trade and economic development and which requires huge flexibility for airlines and airports.”

Complete opening-up of the market
According to Steven, this applies even more to small countries, which have much shorter distances between airports or even to airports in other countries. This situation calls for a complete opening-up of the market. Because the cargo specificity opens up scope to contemplate a ‘cargo first’. “If market liberalisation is currently too sensitive for the passenger transport sector, it would perhaps be more appropriate to begin with cargo. By its very nature, the cargo industry is suitable for this development with the adoption of the ‘cargo first’ approach.”

The system of bilateral agreements originating from the Stone Age is outdated, argues the LGG management  -  courtesy LGG
The system of bilateral agreements originating from the Stone Age is outdated, argues the LGG management - courtesy LGG

Steven is certainly not the first to underline the specific characteristics cargo possesses as opposed to passenger transport: “Several types of goods of a different nature (mail, cargo, animals, etc.) can be transported on the same flight. Goods are traditionally only carried in one direction and other types of merchandise sometimes make the return journey, whilst passengers generally take return flights. The goods may transit through different hubs before arriving at their destination, while passengers generally prefer to avoid transfers. These different specificities mean that air cargo is the ideal means of transport to begin with when attempting to liberalise traffic rights.”
 
Gradual approach
It is for this reason that Liege Airport is calling for a full liberalisation of the air cargo market, says Steven. “Open Skies for freighter operators should be the final target of a gradual liberation. Recognising, however, that such a development cannot be achieved overnight, Liege Airport advocates the widest possible opening in the cargo sector, within the current legal framework.”
 
“Finally, Liege Airport would urge all airlines and Belgian airports to be treated in a balanced manner so that a true level playing field can be established between the airlines and the Belgian airports. In terms of traffic rights, the bilateral agreements as well as the decisions to issue rights should thus cover the rights regarding access to Belgian territory and not to either of the airports.”

This point of view, which is endorsed by the LGG management as a whole, has also been communicated to the Belgian aviation authority and the political authorities on both the federal and regional level.

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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