Brussels Airlines Cargo has increased its volume by 34% during 2017, to over 49,000 tonnes. VP Global Cargo Alban François is convinced that 2018 will bring another boost to over 55,000 tonnes as well as an even closer cooperation with Lufthansa Cargo.
According to the manager, the volume rise was triggered by three circumstances. “Our volume for 2016 was impacted by the terror attacks, which especially hit March and April of that year (even if
the company was able to report a 6% growth over the year as a whole, ms). Secondly, there was the introduction of the 10th A330 in our fleet to serve Mumbai, which gave us a 10% capacity rise.
Last but not least, we improved the forecasting of the capacity under the lead of SN Cargo’s new cargo capacity & revenue manager, Thomas Blondiau,” Mr François explained.
The introduction of capacity management has made a great difference compared with the old days when volumes were assessed in a rather empiric way, he says. “Now we have introduced a forecasting model that enables us to assess the number of passenger, their baggage weight and this for considering the specifics of every route and the day of the week on top of seasonal effects. In doing this, we have a better idea of the capacity per aircraft.
He went on to say: “It allowed us to fly about one extra tonne per flight on average. And this in spite of the fact that our passenger load seat factor has also increased over the same period. All these measures added up came at the right moment, when the market itself was very responsive,” Alban stated.
Successful Courier product
Africa remains by far the most important market for Brussels Airlines Cargo, accounting for some 30,000 tonnes. North America (New York, Washington and Toronto) generated some 11,500 tonnes, Mumbai roughly 4,400 t. The rest of the volume has been flown on the European network.
As for the latter, the Courier product has appeared to be very successful. “It is an airport-to-airport product (based on the forwarding model),” says Alban. “The difference with general cargo is the dedicated tracking and the very short cut-off times.”
Thanks to a dedicated control desk and ramp transport, deliveries can be made until one hour before take-off and goods are made available at destinations in 45 mins. The only rule to be followed is that the consignments fit into the airline’s ‘postal bags’. These Courier bags are recognized across the network and they are off-loaded even before the baggage. The product is currently offered within the EU only, since there is no customs clearance.
Courier consignments travel without an AWB, even if the accompanying document looks like one. “The handling companies insisted on having a document,” Alban explains.
Awareness in pharma transport
Commodity-wise, perishables make up the greater part (more than 80%) of the volume originating in Africa. In 2017 this segment rose by 20%. A more spectacular increase of 56% was recorded in pharmaceuticals, a rise outpacing the market as a whole. Alban thinks this success owes a lot to a better understanding of the industry needs through dialogue with shippers and forwarders. This allowed SN to implement new measures such as the pharma airside transporter and increase awareness internally. “We’ve just had our IATA Pharma CEIV audit, which has again stressed the importance of this awareness. Our pilots have been made aware on the cargo hold temperature control and its impact on the transported goods.”
Maybe a world’s first was Brussels Airlines’ mapping of the temperature in the holds from the very hot (Africa) to the very cold (Toronto), he thinks. “A lot depends on the start conditions. If the holds have been open for 2 hours at an African airport, you cannot expect them to cool down to 15° juts like that. Our mapping has allowed us to draw up some procedures and provide the transparency so much requested.” Brussels Airlines now wants to pioneer to be the first airline CEIV certified through the entire network.
Talking to LCAG
Since Brussels Airlines is 100% owned by the Lufthansa Group, an even closer cooperation will have to be defined between the cargo department and LCAG. “We are talking to them,” says Alban. “There has to be a win/win for both of us. In general, collaboration on the cargo side is not as obvious as it is on the passenger side. In our business, we still have our own preserves which will continue to exist as long as you do not put a structure in place. Our aim is to offer to our customers an increased global coverage by connecting our networks.”
Brussels Airlines Cargo and LCAG want to combine their respective strengths. Alban: “We are strong in Africa and at BRU, we have been able to reinforce our position as the home carrier. On the other hand, LCAG is the Mercedes of the air cargo industry, with the right products as well as the right tools. Of course, some hurdles have to be taken, the still existing incompatibility of our IT systems being just one of them.”
Fleet roll-over will boost capacity
The planned long-haul fleet roll-over that will have seven out of 10 of the company’s A330’s renewed by 2019 is key for Brussels Airline Cargo. “This has a big impact on our capacity,” says Alban. “As this new variant of A330’s has a higher TOW, we can take as much as 5 extra tonnes per flight.”
This will allow to continue the growth beyond 2018. The target of a 10% growth to 55,000 tonnes Alban and his team have set for 2018 is linked to on the one hand Mumbai (that will contribute as a full-year operation) and on the other hand an adapted rotation on the East-African network.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels