Ground service provider Liege Cargo Agency (LCA) could take on the role as trailblazer for the Walloon airport by developing the location into a hub for commercial goods ordered electronically. As LCA’s Chief and majority owner (67 percent) Eric Bruckmann exclusively told CargoForwarder Global, his company is on the verge of sealing a deal with a major Chinese investor, including his firm’s equity participation in a large warehouse project for the throughput of e-Commerce imports. Negotiations are in an advanced stage, Eric says.
Up to now, the main commodities LCA handles, customs clears and distributes are flowers, fish and other perishables, live animals, dangerous goods and valuables. So basically the traditional
range of air freight products. Eric delivers an illustrative example: “We handle the large majority of fish consignments flown in each night on board Icelandair’s Boeing 757 freighters and
organize the intra-European distribution of these temperature critical goods to get them to the consignees as fast as possible.” Flower shipments are treated similarly. The same goes for
Israel-harvested fruits and vegetables, but also artwork and valuables imported by individuals or traders, including unspecified commodities flown as general cargo to and from Liege, passing his
facility at LGG airport.
Fast flow of goods
After customs releases the imports, which according to Eric takes normally only a couple of minutes, they are loaded on trucks for onward transportation to their final destinations. “Actually, you can compare us with a lock opening the airside gate, getting the shipments in, sorting them and opening the landside door for having them trucked off,” he illustrates.
Currently, LCA is an indispensable part of the broader service landscape offered by Liege Airport and its local clients. However, the 2002 founded forwarder and customs agent operating with access to LGG’s tarmac is still a rather small player, turning over two million euros per year, employing no more than nine staff. “The good news is that our revenues grew by ten percent in average the last four years,” he adds. That is more or less in line with Liege Airport’s turnover which according to data increased by nine percent per year.
Chinese trader opted for Liege as preferred e-Commerce hub
However, LCA’s role as niche player might change in the near future, if Eric’s distinct feelings for capturing new businesses is not deceptive. This will soon become clear if far-reaching plans materialize to set up a major warehouse within the airport’s fence for the sole purpose of handling e-commerce articles. Obviously, the project is already well advanced.
The background to this is that a Guangzhou, China-headquartered retail giant pushes for establishing a European air hub for imported commodities ordered electronically by private consumers. The choice fell on Liege Airport with LCA jumping on board as local partner, responsible for de-consolidating the shipments after their arrival and handing them over to distributers like DPD, GLS, DHL Express, Postal Services or other delivery companies covering the last mile in the fastest possible way. “The Chinese investor was looking for a reliable partner that provides the entire range of services from the arrival of an aircraft to the delivery to the buyers,” illustrates the manager.
e-Commerce dedicated warehouse
According to Bruckmann, the physical operation will commence in August of next year, once a 10,000 square meter warehouse projected at Liege within the airport boundaries is operational. “Our Chinese partner wants us to manage the warehouse and all related services like customs clearance, trucking, and documentation, including of course all ground handling processes,” as he describes the range of duties.
Should all go according to plan, e-commerce will become a second mainstay for his enterprise and an additional earnings pillar. And not only for his company, but the airport as well.
Tapping into this fast developing market and securing a big chunk of it for LGG is entirely in line with Liege’s CEO Luc Partoune who senses an important opportunity for attracting new business and developing his site into a leading cargo airport in Europe and e-commerce throughput. “We started rather small but are meanwhile ranked the number eight in cargo within Europe by tonnage,” Luc states. Last year, LGG turned over 650,000 tons of air freight.
SOWAER plays a major role as Liege developer
This venture from small to big is supported by the regional Walloon government and predominantly the Société Wallonne des aéroports – SOWAER – that holds 25 percent in LGG, with Aeroport de Paris and a local investment funds holding the remaining shares. It was SOWAER that together with local politicians and the airport management decided to spend € 350 million to relocate dwellers living near to the airport. This way, approximately 1,200 houses and pieces of land were bought by SOWAER over the years, preventing any protests against night flight operations by neighbors. This step, taken in 1997 was visionary and became the founding stone of the Walloon airport, a former military air base as international cargo gateway. However, for those that refused to move in spite of the noise emissions created each night by TNT and other operators, SOWAER paid for additional noise protection measures, roughly 4,500 houses and buildings benefited from. Conversely, they had to commit to refrain from any legal proceedings to stop night flights or bring down operations to a minimum. States Pascale de Mieter, Commercial Manager Europe at Israeli carrier CAL Cargo Airlines: “The unrestricted night flight allowance is exactly the reason why we exited Germany years ago and switched our entire operations to Liege.”
Today, CAL has daily 747-400F flights to Tel Aviv and serves Liege-JFK also daily with B777F aircraft. In addition, their Boeing 747-400 freighters, equipped with a flip-up cargo door in the nose land twice a week in Atlanta, linking the Walloon Airport with Hartfield-Jackson International in the Georgian capital.
Germany is still CAL’s core market. “Around sixty percent of our tonnage flown out of Liege on the main decks of our freighters are generated there,” Pascale states.