Which European Airport could be Best Suited for Future e-Commerce Operations?

There has been much reported in the trade and general press during the past twelve months on the speedy development of e-commerce activities around the globe.
Companies such as Amazon and Alibaba spring to mind when e-commerce is a subject around boardroom tables at airlines and logistics companies.
There are also some new entrants and the development in this sector is unstoppable.
Transport companies are having to rethink their logistics strategies in order to cope with the e-commerce market. But what about the airports in Europe?
Are they geared towards a seamless handling product which is essential for e-commerce customers?

Many European airports may be too small or not flexible enough.


The simple fact is that in five to ten years most of the air cargo being flown around the globe will in one way or another originate from internet ordering and todays general warehousing systems will become obsolete.
e-commerce,which is geared towards fast ordering and fast delivery will be controlled by large logistics companies such as Amazon, Alibaba and others.
Time is running out for airports to gear themselves for this type of ‘cargo handling’ in the future.
We’ve seen the e-commerce giants, especially Amazon, looking at having their own controllable modes of transport.
In Amazon’s case, and they won’t be the last, they have struck a deal with the Atlas Air Group to operate U.S. domestic delivery services with their own dedicated fleet.

What about European e-commerce locations?
At first glance there are enough airports around Europe who on the face of it could handle a future e-commerce influx.
Or could they?
The new supply chain is all about speed, traceability, deliverables (commitments), 24/7 operations and much higher volumes of individual shipments. At least two operational runways, speedy distribution possibilities, and room for expansion landside are other important aspects.
However, one of the most important facets is whether or which customs and regulatory bodies are in a position to speedily adapt to the new situation.
Just consider the immense volume of individual AWB’s that need to be processed at high speed. If not, the e-commerce product will sag.
How many have this?

Integrators are feeling at home at CGN  - courtesy airport
Integrators are feeling at home at CGN - courtesy airport

Our pointer shows that Germany with its still large and growing export potential as well as more than 80 million potential e-commerce customers and sold infrastructure, could be the country of choice.
This, also because of its geographical location which makes it ideal for intra-country transfer of goods.

Cologne-Bonn Airport could be ideal
We have looked at the so-called big-four airports, FRA, MUC, DUS and CGN and our bet would be CGN.
We have not asked yet for official confirmation from CGN’s management as to whether they also see it ‘our way.’
But here, as with other airports, there are stumbling blocks.
One should not forget the competition CGN faces about 100 kilometers away at Belgium’s Liege Airport.
Liege has done a good job during the past few years in establishing itself as an ideal airport for carriers such as TNT, Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways who have built bases there.
It now faces the problem of Ethiopian and Qatar wandering off to Brussels and Luxembourg.
However, they have enough facilities and space to expand. Whether the local government want to or not, remains to be seen.

But, back to CGN
Frankfurt, Munich and Duesseldorf are all space restricted, curfew restricted and more expensive on the handling and airport charges side.
Leipzig is seen to be too far east and married to DHL.
Hahn Airport would have been a suitable ‘build-up candidate’ if it were not for its financial misery and one runway which takes it out of the running.

CGN has gained enormous experience in the handling of integrators such as UPS and FedEx and have shown that they can handle numerous aircraft movements within restricted periods of time.
They have a customs set-up which has proven to be very flexible and who are geared towards training methods for the e-commerce handling.
In our view, there is enough land available adjacent to the present cargo handling warehouses which is suitable for expansion.
It belongs to the city of Cologne, is not being used and could easily be tied into the present airport security infrastructure.

Questions remain
The question remains as to whether the CGN management has the correct tools and the know-how, as well as the dedication to go down this road.
The CGN cargo department has shown itself to be flexible and adaptable during the past few years and has put the airport onto the cargo map.
The foundation could start there.
The expansion of Eurowings, the Lufthansa low cost carrier at Cologne has taken up a lot of the management’s time. Hopefully they’ll be able to look closer at the e-commerce market.
If not, that would be a shame as most of the ingredients and the potential are there.
The airport is partly owned by the city of Cologne, the North-Rhine Westphalia government and the German government.
A deadly mixture when it comes to negotiating on expansion and investment.

There is more there we feel and whether the authorities and the management also see it that way and realize that they have an ideal e-commerce location for the future, remains to be seen.

John Mc Donagh

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