On the occasion of ‘Singles Day’ in China, the biggest shopping spree of the world celebrated on November 11th, ASL Aviation has started flying parcels between Liege Airport and Hangzhou, the home base of Chinese internet giant Alibaba.
People close to the case are convinced that the flights clearly indicate that the Chinese e-commerce giant has decided in favour of Liege to set up its European distribution centre. The issue had
been subject of ongoing speculation that started last May, when Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics arm, decided to set up their global network operation at LGG (CFG 05/31/2018).
Last July, Belgian federal PM Charles Michel confirmed the plans, announcing that Alibaba would “very soon invest in a large distribution centre at LGG.”
However, in the months thereafter the enthusiasm of the aviation community in and around Liege sparked by the Belgian politician was curbed by furious initiatives taken by Michel’s Dutch counterpart Mark Rutten to lure Alibaba to either Maastricht Aachen Airport or Weert, a location on the Belgian-Dutch border, situated not far from Germany.
On 13 November Belgium’s two leading financial daily publications ‘De Tijd’ and ‘L’Echo’ quoted Terry Von Bibra, Alibaba’s European Director, saying that the operations to LGG had already started. He admitted however that it would take months to have the infrastructure in place.
Liege is Alibaba’s stepping stone to penetrate the EU
The plans in Liège provide for the building of a huge distribution centre on a plot measuring 380,000 sq. m.
Quoted by the media mentioned above Mr. Von Bibra – a veteran of Amazon, Yahoo and retailer Karstadt – said that the question is not only if a distribution centre is built or not.
“What is more important is that we have been able to work out a pushed collaboration with Liege Airport, even if Alibaba’s expansion in Europe will not stop there. After a while we will investigate how this works out. And we will look into the opportunity to create a second or a third centre. This is a process which will extend over the next few years.”
Liege Airport’s Commercial Vice-President Steven Verhasselt remains cautious, even when confirming the flights between LGG and Hangzhou. “The negotiations with Cainiao (of which Alibaba controls 51% of the shares) on possible investments at LGG are in the final stage, but we cannot communicate anything officially about these investments, nor about their scale or the timing,” the manager said.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels