Exclusive – Brussels Airlines Gives Cargo a Major Makeover

The new cargo strategy of Brussels Airlines has not only led to a GSA switch last year, but has also brought about an upgraded Business Unit Cargo inside the airline. The new VP Global Cargo Alban François and Air Logistics Group’s Business Unit Director Bart Van Daele take the helm together.

Together they stand. Alban François VP Global Cargo Brussels Airlines (L) and Bart Van Daele, Director BU Brussels Airlines Cargo at Air Logistics Group – photo: ms
Together they stand. Alban François VP Global Cargo Brussels Airlines (L) and Bart Van Daele, Director BU Brussels Airlines Cargo at Air Logistics Group – photo: ms

The objective of the reorganization of the cargo business was mainly to align the cargo strategy with the one of the passenger business and thus to get a better grasp on the cargo activity, says Alban. “In the past, cargo was considered as the cherry on the cake, the objective being to fill the remaining belly space. In the previous set-up, key functions of cargo management were outsourced to the GSA.” Last year, the Management Board decided to further expand the cargo business based on the long-standing expertise considering it as a second core business near the passenger business instead of being ‘a passenger airline also carrying some airfreight.
Alban goes on to say: “During the Ebola crisis in Africa we were the only airline still flying to the countries affected. We kept at all times the lifeline open bringing doctors and nurses to the affected countries as well as transporting their equipment and medication.”
The carrier’s CEO Bernard Gustin paid several times a visit to the countries involved underlining the importance of keeping the countries connected to the outside world and helping international organizations in bringing the necessary medical staff and their material to the affected regions.
“We realized that cargo was here a crucial contributor to overcome the crisis and we needed to contract additional capacity to fly in all the material. At that moment we decided to adapt the ambition for the cargo department from filling the available belly space to offering to our customers reliable air freight solutions,” explained the manager.

Holistic approach
“The new set-up of our cargo activities allows a holistic management of cargo, comparable to the way we manage our passengers business: like for the passenger business, we want to go the extra 'Smile' in cargo. To fulfill this ambition, we are strongly dependent on the operations reason why I’m also heading the cargo operations in order to streamline the operations with the sales department.”
“This holistic approach is also applicable on a corporate level. As VP Cargo, I am at the same level as the VP’s of the other business units. Therefore, our wishes and remarks are integrated in the greater picture. As an example, the last long-haul aircraft that entered our fleet at the beginning of this month has a higher MTOW than all other aircraft in the fleet. This A330 has been selected mainly to cope with the high cargo demand on the Kinshasa route.”

Full integration
Physically, the BU Cargo is located at two places: the BRUcargo building 706 and Brussels Airlines HQ situated opposite to the freight area. For the commercialization of the capacity, SN set up a close collaboration with its GSA Air Logistics Group, ending its relationship with ECS. Within ALG, a dedicated business unit in Brussels named Air Cargo Logistics was created with a firm intention to be integrated within SN. This 100% SN dedicated set-up was one of the conditions agreed with ALG at contract award.
“The objective of setting up this dedicated business unit was to join forces across both companies in the transformation of the business allowing agility,” says Alban. “We needed a new team and therefore joint expertise to create a great one. Together with ALG’s COO Stephen Dawkins, we decided to select individuals with diverse backgrounds (being it coming from the former GSA, from airlines, agents or  handlers) under the lead of a very experienced cargo manager, Bart Van Daele.”
Visibility of SN Cargo at BRUcargo was another important condition. “Our team is dedicated to SN, we are Brussels Airlines Cargo”, says Bart. “When we pick up the phone, when we show our business cards, we are Brussels Airlines Cargo.”
At the end of the day, the main aim is to continue the alignment of cargo as a part of the overall strategy. One of the next steps will be the in-sourcing of the dedicated ACL team into the Brussels Airlines organization. By next year, the ACL staff will all stand on the Brussels Airlines Cargo payroll, that is: in Brussels only. For the rest of the world Air Logistics Group will remain the GSSA for SN. In all, this will lead to a staff of 17.  “Even within ALG there will always be Brussels Airlines dedicated people,” says Bart.

Air freight is an important contributor to Brussels Airlines‘ turnover  -  courtesy SN
Air freight is an important contributor to Brussels Airlines‘ turnover - courtesy SN

Product development
The bellies are still very full, says Alban. “In order to provide added value to our customers, we need to get a better view on their requirements and to define accordingly the appropriate cargo products. Therefore, a new position of ‘Cargo Business Development Manager’ has been created filled in by Reinout Puissant (former Regional Sales Manager Cargo West-Africa) who will work on defining a product portfolio and on strategic partnerships.
Of course there is fresh-to-shelf, the ex Africa door-to-door perishables service operated together with Adelantex. “But there are other forwarders that want to import perishables and we need to support them equally,” says Alban. “What remains important for Brussels Airlines and for the African continent is that the exports out of Africa can keep on growing.”
The innovative part in Reinout’s function is the broad spectrum of responsibility: he will be managing the product definition from the customer requirements through the sales & marketing up to the operations. “To bring pharmaceuticals to Africa, for example. SN was one of the first companies at Brussels Airport to endorse the Brussels Pharma Gateway program. We are now working towards CEIV certification, not only on the process and service level, but also through dedicated equipment. In that segment too, we want to look to develop a door-to-door product, supported by passive cooling. The crux of the matter is the mitigation of risks. Often, through the chain, there are risks of temperature excursion. We want to have the right set-up everywhere through our network and especially in Africa. The handlers, too, have to be involved.”
“Another example of product development is that we are looking into the possibility of combined contracts for NGO’s that is including passenger seats together with belly space.”

Untapped European capacity
Capacity management is another issue. “Sometimes the belly capacity has to give in to the growing number of passengers on the same aircraft. So we have to get a better capacity management, for which we are in the process of recruiting a capacity manager. The question is to have the highest possible load factor combined with the highest possible customer satisfaction.”
The extensive European network is something that can be utilized in a more efficient way. “We serve 70 European destinations and their endless number of combinations. Brussels is a medium-size and therefore easily manageable hub and we need to take the advantage of it.”
Last September, Brussels Airlines Cargo introduced a very fast and dedicated courier product. It is supported by a specific acceptance/delivery desk, a centralized 24/7 control tower, and dedicated ramp transport to – and at destination from – the aircraft. Alban: “The transport vehicle stays with the aircraft till the consignment has been loaded. In our outstation, we need outsourcing, but there we have ALG to supervise.”
“We select the right party in collaboration with Brussels Airlines Cargo,” says Bart. “This is part of the integration. It is ALG that designs the route and sets up the control tower. To date the product is available in 19 stations.”
Alban and Bart are convinced that their product is a strong alternative for integrator products. “They still have a consolidation model. We are faster in an environment where 5 minutes can be important. The users are e-commerce customers or suppliers of spare parts for e.g. hospitals and automotive.” Bart: “The quick ramp transfer on which the courier service is based, can also be applied to general cargo. We do it already for Northbound African fresh fish traffic.”

Brussels Airlines Cargo does not have a specific intra-African feeder network, but uses its own intra-African leg system when the traffic rights allow it.
On a yearly tonnage of more than 38,000 tons for a turnover of more than €63 Mio in 2015, Africa still accounts for more than 85%. The remaining part is generated on the European and transatlantic routes. The latter consist of New York JFK and Washington (only summer) and, since recently, Toronto. 

Then, of course, there is Lufthansa. Alban has no insight into the eventualities of a total take-over by Lufthansa and the impact for his cargo unit. As for LCAG, the cooperation is close and both companies help one another when possible.
Of course, the attacks of 22 March have had a negative impact on the operations, but the crisis was well handled, Alban thinks. “On days without any flights at all, the impact was of course negative. After that, we had diverted operations. Our focus was on helping our customers. We even transferred some of our freight to other airlines. Now all our cargo operations are back to normal. And we are thankful that our customers have not let us down.”

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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