Slot Scarcity Will Slow Volumes at AMS, Experts Warn

The umbrella organisation Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) has expressed fears that slot scarcity may lead to a dip of cargo volumes. If so, AMS will become a victim of its own success.

Ben Radstaak, General Manager Air Cargo Netherlands  -  photo: ms
Ben Radstaak, General Manager Air Cargo Netherlands - photo: ms

ACN’s preliminary statement of affairs has revealed that with the winter season approaching 32 of the existing 175 full freighter flights have not yet been granted slots. Even if some additional slots may be allocated by mid-September, AMS may well lose a minimum of 25 flights per week, says General Manager Ben Radstaak in the organisation’s monthly newsletter.
The cause is in the so-called ‘Alders Agreement’, signed in 2008 to reconcile economic development and its environmental impact and calling for ‘balanced growth’. The agreement stipulates that up to 2020 the number of aircraft movements at AMS is limited to 500,000 a year.

Spectacular growth
Driven by a spectacular growth over the last few years, mainly in the passenger segment (2016: +9% and 476,000 movements), it can be expected that this overall limitation of 500,000 will be reached this year.
The main problem is that full freighter operations do not fit well into this scheme, says ACN. Contrary to passenger aircraft they have more difficulties in flying tight schedules. This is due to the volatility of the market, which is influenced by various factors such as high-tech product introductions, the flower seasons and the on-going rise in the e-commerce segment.
Unlike passenger traffic, which is mainly a return market, cargo flows tend to be one way and freight carriers have to ‘make ends meet’. On top of this air cargo tends to be less punctual than passenger aviation, leading to more delays, which are difficult to correct.

Air Freight Center at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport  -  courtesy: AMS
Air Freight Center at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport - courtesy: AMS

15% capacity dip
Should ACN’s estimates of a loss of 25 slots prove to be correct, this would entail a capacity reduction of some 15%. “This is all the more painful, given the economic pick-up and the growing demand for capacity,” says Ben.
Among the companies involved are long-time customers like Singapore Airlines, Kalitta, AirBridge Cargo, Saudia, China Southern, China Cargo and Yangtze River. Some 60% of the AMS cargo is flown by full-freighters. According to Ben the drop could even be more significant if larger players such as SIA Cargo and ABC were to move their operation elsewhere.
ACN fears that the situation may lead to a snowball effect involving the handlers, jobs and the survival of companies. Air cargo-related companies are among the most important lessors at AMS. The organisation also points out that air cargo represents 20% of the Netherlands’ GDP.

Joint action
The industry is well embedded in the Dutch economy. Apart from being a global hub for the import and export of flowers, the Netherlands are also home to a lot of European distribution centres for U.S., Japanese, European and Chinese companies. Dutch multinationals like ASML, Philips, Akzo-Nobel, Ahold, Shell and Post NL are highly dependent on the offer of air cargo services at AMS.
ACN has joined forces with the Dutch shippers’ organisation evofenedex and Transport & Logistiek Nederland to appeal for an exception of full freighters to the slot allocation regulation. Together they have approached the ministries for Infrastructure & Environment and Economic Affairs. Various efforts from cargo carriers to reach an agreement with the Slot Coordinator so far have failed.

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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