Air China Cargo Boosts e-Commerce Business at Liege

This June Air China Cargo will introduce a weekly flight between Shanghai and Liege Airport. The service is expected to boost the airport’s e-commerce strategy, says Manager Cargo & Logistics Bert Selis. On the ground as well, LGG is taking the way forward.

Bert Selis of Liege Airport warmly welcomes Air China Cargo  -  photo: LGG
Bert Selis of Liege Airport warmly welcomes Air China Cargo - photo: LGG

According to Bert, LGG has been working quite intensely on the e-commerce market for a couple of years, in close collaboration with the customs authorities. The volumes are clearly going up, thanks to ASL Belgium. ASL has become an independent company, selling its capacity to the market just like any other carrier. In the old days, when it was still TNT Airways, the four weekly Liege-Shanghai flights would mainly carry TNT volumes. “Now, however, they carry commercial cargo, opening up the Chinese e-commerce market for us,” states Bert.
Air China Cargo will also fly to Shanghai, bringing in a B777F. The advantage in this is that the Chinese exporters still prefer working with one of their own airlines, Bert explains.
On top of this, the LGG management is talking to Chinese express companies. LGG’s dowry consists in the opportunities offered by Cargo Nord zone, in which the airport is investing heavily.

Warehousing expansion
“We can offer those companies a     dedicated airside warehouse, in which they can perform their own handling should they prefer so. On the landside, there is ample space for the set-up of a sorting centre. There is no other airport in Europe able to offer those opportunities,” he remarks.
In the said cargo zone, LGG has worked out a system together with Swissport allowing the latter to avoid pushing ULDs through the warehouse by bypassing it on the outside. “The dollies deliver the ULDs directly to the trucks. This way the capacity of the warehouse can be enlarged.
Adjacent to the Swissport premises, LGG is building a new 6,100 m² warehouse. So far, it has not been allocated to a specific client. If necessary, it can be split up in three individual parts including to draw the border line between air and landside according to the user’s wishes. “That is an important advantage for the import of perishables, of which we handle 200,000 tonnes a year,” notes Bert.

Perishables booming
LGG’s own 2,000 m² perishables centre is open to everybody. Users pay a fee per kilogram handled. Another handling company LACHS, owned by Israeli carrier CAL, has another 6,000 m² of 15°C - 25°C cool stores as well as some 2°C - 8°C cold stores. In the Swissport warehouse, there are additional 500 m² available for cool storage of temp sensitive products.
Since last May, Aviapartner has another 200 m² for the use of its perishables customers. “This was done at the request of its customers. One of these, El Al, is very strongly placing itself on the pharma map,” tells Mr Selis.
Another growth-generating business that has developed rapidly during the last couple of years is live horses, accounting for some 3,000 animals annually. In 2016 this number went up to 4,000, thanks to the airport’s state-of-the-art ‘Horse Inn’ facility. The building accommodates both flown horses and animals that are trucked within Europe.

FedEx invests
Finally yet importantly, there is, of course, FedEx. “The story of FedEx at LGG is a three-step one,” illustrates Bert. “Firstly, they refurbished one of the old TNT warehouses, which they did right after – step two – with another former TNT facility.”
Similarly, LGG enlarged its secondary runway to 3,200 m, enabling wide-body aircraft to utilize it.
Thirdly, FedEx introduced its own daily Shanghai-Liege-Memphis service. This could kick-off additional operations by the U.S. package delivery company at LGG, expects Bert.
Last year LGG handled a total of 660,000 tonnes, a 2 percent growth y-o-y. Q1 of 2017 brought a total of 172,000 tonnes and over the first 4 months into 2017, growth is estimated at 5%. This was mainly due to the extended Qatar operation. “So it looks like we will be able to maintain this 5% growth right onto the end of this year,” Bert concludes.

LGG’s vision for the future has been labelled ‘Flexpress’, aiming at creating a digital and physical environment on and around the airport. The intention is to deploy the existing expertise in the swift handling of express and perishables for general cargo as well. Transparency, predictability and an even faster handling of products like e-commerce are the targets to be set. To reach these aims, Flexpress is an adequate tool, they say at Liege.

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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