Brussels Airport is Back on Track

About 2.5 months after the horrendous attack by Islamic suicide bombers, Brussels Airport’s cargo business is definitely back on track. The airport’s dedicated pharma concept is gaining both momentum and new customers, like Etihad Cargo.

The Belgian Airports Brussels and Liege are the main European hubs of Ethiopian Cargo
The Belgian Airports Brussels and Liege are the main European hubs of Ethiopian Cargo

“Our strategy has not changed and we do not expect a large setback due to the tragic events,” says Head of Cargo Steven Polmans. “Within the first week after the attack we were back in business and we have not lost a single full cargo route, nor did we experience a lack of confidence.” As the airport has as yet not fully returned to the pre-attack passenger operation, belly cargo is still lagging behind, he admits. “We hope to be fully operational in this respect at the start of the summer season. There is, of course, Delta Air Lines, which has suspended its Atlanta flight till next March.” But it looks that all routes are going to be resumed rather sooner than later.

ET Cargo wants to expand its BRU services
At the same time, Ethiopian Cargo is back. Following the extended airline services agreement between Belgium and Ethiopia, ET Cargo is now able to sell, amongst other, Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong in its own right. In the former set-up as a charter operation, the airline acted as a subcontractor to StarBroker, which is still its largest customer. “Now they fly an average of 9 weekly flights, some direct, others via Addis Ababa,” says Steven. “They would also like to add new routes from Brussels in the near future, which they can do under the revised agreement”. Only a very limited number of cities are excluded.

Ethiopian Airlines Cargo was one out of four companies that brought new freighter services to the airport last year, the others being Emirates SkyCargo, Yangtze River Express and Canadian Kelowna. The latter, however, decided to withdraw and is now concentrating mainly on the North American charter market.

Only last week, Etihad  Cargo, which has been flying passenger aircraft to Brussels since 2006, introduced a bi-weekly freighter service.

Pharma triggers interest
Steven admits that the Pharma Gateway concept has acted as an important trigger to these airlines. “As for pharmaceuticals, Brussels is an important local market. The Pharma Gateway concept is disseminating a positive story on the marketing side. As at many dedicated cargo airports, freighter aircraft at Brussels can park right in front of the warehouses. We are also a passenger–driven airport and we feel that both are complementary. Together they can make up the offer needed by the logistical companies.”

Steven Polmans is heading BRUCargo
Steven Polmans is heading BRUCargo

MIA-BRU pharma pact
The growing importance of standardised and industry-supported pharma logistics was stressed again a few weeks ago when the airports of Brussels and Miami agreed in setting up the organisation pharma.aero. Today there are no direct air cargo links between the airports, but according to Steven that is not the point. “The aim is to improve pharmaceutical logistics by air worldwide and not necessarily between our two airports. We expect other airports, with some of which we are directly connected, to step in as well very soon. Even if Miami has a much larger cargo volume than Brussels, they admit that as for pharma we are ahead of them.” But most important is the fact that both places share the same vision and passion when it comes to the handling of pharma.

The airport’s innovative view toward pharma has also resulted in the design of the ‘airside pharmatransporter’, 5 of which are now being tested. “We expect the dolly’s to roll out officially in July or August. We have already completed tests in winter conditions and are now finishing testing summer conditions in Dubai. We want to carry out a complete mapping of the behaviour of the pharmatransporters under all circumstances before they can be put on the market. Something which is important for the pharma manufacturers.”

Expanding the geographical reach
South America has been the missing link at Brussels Airport for years. “We have a lot of cargo for South America. We have a lot of discussions in this respect and we may well get a connection in the 12 months to come.” On the other hand and thanks to Brussels Airlines, Africa remains important. “Even if Brussels Airlines accounts for  less than 10% of the total volume at the airport, it is important to have a home carrier. Especially on the long-haul and with their extensive African network. They have recently also introduced Toronto and are now studying Mumbai.”

The first and very welcome positive event after the attacks was the official foundation of the umbrella organisation Air Cargo Belgium. So far, two board meetings have been held and 11 working groups have been installed, studying different projects that will eventually benefit the air cargo community as a whole.

Life after 22/03
Understandably, the cargo volumes still suffer under the 22/03 attacks, merely due to the decrease of the belly segment. Last May the decrease was only 0.3%, which was mainly due to the move of Jet Airways to Amsterdam. “If Jet Airways is not taken into account, the upward trend we have experienced since the attacks is going on,” says Steven.

The airfreight village BRUcargo is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion programme. The Swissport building - the former premises of Sabena Handing - is getting a complete make-over. At the most recent zone BRUcargo West a new 40,000 m² facility is under discussion for different users, with direct airside access, both for handlers as well as forwarders. It will be heavily secured, as will most of BRUcargo. “Instead of closing off the entire BRUcargo village, Brussels Airport has opted for individual fencing-off larger premises.”

The cargo team of Brussels Airport Company has recently welcomed a new member, who will concentrate on the implementation of the different Cloud solution, developed together with Nallian.

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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