Air Cargo and the Sky Over The Netherlands

Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) is worried about the way cargo management is going at AMS Schiphol. A comprehensible stance. As from 1 April - this is no joke - a new airport division will take off under the banner ‘Aviation, Passenger and Cargo Experience’. Out goes Jonas van Stekelenburg, a victim of the division’s merger. Jonas took over cargo management from Enno Osinga only some three years ago. The new division will be headed by Maaike van der Windt, who has been at the helm of the existing Aviation Marketing department since last year.

Will cargo traffic only play the second fiddle at Schiphol in future?  - Picture: AMS
Will cargo traffic only play the second fiddle at Schiphol in future? - Picture: AMS

When clicking on Amsterdam Schiphol Group’s Aviation Marketing link on their site, visitors learn that the division intends to maintain and strengthen the competitive position of the airport. “The sky over Holland presents many opportunities … and the sky is open for business,” the website proclaims.

LH Cargo became the first victim of a willful Dutch traffic policy
Is this really the case? Market participants still remember the long-lasting dispute between Lufthansa Cargo and the Dutch aviation authorities over the legality of traffic rights for LHC operated flower flights from Ecuador and Colombia into Europe, via a stop-over in Puerto Rico, which is a sovereign part of the U.S. territory and is therefore subject to the liberal aviation treaty agreed on by Washington and Brussels.
However, KLM lobbied successfully against LH freighters landing in AMS coming from Puerto Rico. A well-known game. For decades KLM and Schiphol Airport were like two sides of the same coin. The Dutch national carrier has been and still is a forceful player in the AMS cargo landscape, not least in the transport of flowers which is part of their core business, especially after they integrated Martinair Cargo. At the end of a long-lasting legal battle, LH Cargo lost their fight for being admitted traffic rights, after Holland’s highest court rejected their claim based on the Dutch judges’ bizarre interpretation of the Open Sky deal signed by the EU and the USA. Experts spoke of a scandalous judicial decision.  

AMS focusses on belly hold cargo, not freighters
Meanwhile, KLM has disposed of most of its freighters and has decided to rely mainly on lower deck capacity of their passenger fleet to meet the needs of their cargo customers. Within the AMS Cargo community this has led to the uneasy feeling that the airport management is following suit by shifting its cargo policy from the main to the lower decks of jetliners, making the life hard for operators of all-cargo aircraft.
That uneasiness is reinforced by the fear that the airport might turn out to be too lenient towards holiday carriers and budget airlines. The fact that the above-mentioned Aviation Marketing page displays an Easyjet aircraft seems to be quite indicative in this respect.

Retail comes first
Leisure travelers are supposed to start their holidays by consuming expensive coffees and tankards of Heineken beer as well as buying Made-in-China orange windmills at the airport’s many shopping areas. But does this clientele really satisfy the retailer’s expectations? Very doubtful, indeed. Most of these travelers booked a low fare ticket to catch a cheap flight and not to spend much money at airport shops and boutiques. This they might do after having arrived at their chosen destination.
What has this got to do with AMS and their cargo strategy? A lot, because the freight community does not hang around in sparkling passenger terminals, spending their money there. So in the eyes of the Schiphol managers they are a quantity negligible when it comes to the airport’s retail business. What the marketing people are overlooking is the fact that many consumer goods displayed at AMS shops were brought in by air freight.

Low cost carrier’s new heaven?
Every additional flight or frequency regulators allocate to AMS, particularly for low cost carriers like Easyjet or AF-KL’s own budget daughter Joon will further reduce the already very limited number of movements, to the detriment of cargo flights. The consequence will be that freighters will continue diverting to other European airports. Much to the annoyance of Air Cargo Netherlands, evofenedex, Transport & Logistiek Nederland, many forwarders, and shippers.

Restoring lost faith is the key issue
Ms Van der Windt, who will head the new division named “Aviation, Passenger and Cargo Experience” as of April 1, can boast an impressive track record, including senior management positions at Brisbane Airport. With her expanded responsibilities she will have a lot on her plate.
One of her main tasks will be to restore confidence that the air freight business is still standing very high on Schiphol’s agenda. This belief was severely damaged lately following the expulsion of all-cargo carriers such as ABC, Emirates, Cargolux or Singapore Cargo that lost some of their slots at AMS.
One can only hope that Mrs Van de Windt will turn out to be an excellent juggler, able to keep all the different balls - including cargo - in the air.

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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