Liege on Way to Becoming a Leading e-Commerce Hub

Liege Airport (LGG) wants to position itself as a preferred point of entry for e-commerce consignments. The crux of the matter is in the local customs administration’s tried and tested clearance system for express cargo, says LGG’s Cargo and Logistics Manager Bert Selis.

Not only e-commerce, also horses (German: Pferde) LGG has made a name for itself  -  photo: MS
Not only e-commerce, also horses (German: Pferde) LGG has made a name for itself - photo: MS

Over the last 2 years, a lot of e-commerce consignments have come by LGG, says Bert. “As an express hub for TNT for 20 years we have gained a lot of expertise, which we want to expand to allow more carriers to come aboard.” Yesterday (18 January) Liege Airport, together with customs and VAT authorities organised a workshop to inform the LGG cargo community as well as some e-commerce logistics specialists on the technicalities of clearing e-commerce consignments.
“The intention is to create a working group to take the matter further,” says Bert. “Some specific locations in Europe, like Amsterdam and London Heathrow, have attracted a lot of e-commerce flows in the past.” Compared to these two, LGG can perform just as well or even better in terms of customs clearance, 24/7 operations and EU-distribution, the managers claims. After 20 years of dealing with TNT’s express shipments and other time-sensitive products such as fresh fish and flowers, these dedicated clearance procedures needed for e-commerce shipments, are a natural match for the local customs’ administration. “They have developed a pre-clearance system allowing the shipments to be cleared before arrival.” Once ‘wheels up’ in China, the LGG customs administration can start their work and within the hour they inform the agent whether a consignment has been cleared or needs further inspection, Bert explains.

Bert Selis
Bert Selis

Complex EU customs procedures – Transparency on local level
According to Mr Selis, the entire e-commerce environment has become much more complicated. “In the old days it was just a matter of order and delivery. Amazon and many others, however, have changed the rules of the game.” They stock their products in Europe, especially in France and Germany, before these are sold. That causes severe problem in the calculation of the import duties, as it is difficult to assess the value of the products. So the mission of the workshop was double, he says. “First of all the customs administration had to throw some light on the different types of e-commerce products, which is a complex matter. Secondly, the working group had to be set up to study the future evolution.”

Ample room for expansion
For LGG this is not just about providing specific infrastructure, even if the airport management thinks that there are a lot of opportunities for LGG to attract more freight. “We want to reach out to the entire e-commerce industry,” propagates Bert. “We are a cargo airport. We handle (mainly) all-cargo aircraft and they are filled with time-sensitive freight. The location of Belgium for European distribution has always been very good. This e-commerce strategy may be a snowball. We have all infrastructure in hand and when there is a need for specific facilities we just build them.” Indeed, LGG is in an enviable position due to plenty of free areas they can utilize in case needed. 
LGG is connected to China with direct flights from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Some of this e-commerce cargo is delivered directly at the airport, some is trucked from AMS or FRA. So there certainly is potential that can be tapped, thinks Bert. “In other places prices for similar services are going up, which is another thing from which we could benefit.”


The potential is there
The manager cannot hide his enthusiasm about the fact that clearing procedures for TNT cargo have grown into a clearance system for e-commerce. “The system clears bulk, not the individual packages. The customs systems communicate directly with those of the agents. We feel that many parties are sensible to these advantages.”
From LGG, ASL Airlines/TNT/Fedex flies back and forth into Shanghai & Hong Kong, 6 times per week to each destination. ET Cargo flies into China (Shanghai & Guangzhou) 9 times a week and they take back return cargo from China. The same goes for El Al, Qatar Airways and Emirates, which fly from Guangzhou and/or Hong Kong via their hubs to LGG. “That is the broader picture,” says Bert. “We see that the big Chinese e-commerce players are coming to Europe and that they want to keep their flows increasingly in their own hand. As an airport, we are a match to their core business as express and time critical cargo is in our DNA.


Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

CEO Arnaud Feist of Brussels Airport
CEO Arnaud Feist of Brussels Airport

Brussels Airport CEO Feist stresses importance of clear legislation
The noise regulations imposed by the Brussels Region are a clear and present danger for the further development of the airport, said  CEO Arnaud Feist of Brussels Airport Company at BAC’s New Year’s Party. “Not only 25% of our cargo volume, but our passenger figures too are at risk. “Even the previous situation was absurd. It is already 5 past 12. We need a stable legal framework,” was Arnaud’s urgent message to Brussels regional government that is responsible for the imposed tougher noise restrictions.


Comments: 0