For many years, the vast mass of air freight shipments, produced in the EU and destined to non-EU countries, has been trucked across the block’s member states to consolidation airports for uplift. This is visibly changing. Meanwhile an increasing number of consignments are flown within Europe and are no longer trucked.
Until recently, flying air freight from one EU country into another had been kind of a dead horse, not worth much to think about. Exceptions were ultra-urgent shipments transported overnight, time critical express products or some other fast needed urgent medical or pharmaceutical supplies. These were always flown and seldom trucked.
Modal shift from road to air
But speaking of today’s state of pan-European freight transports, the wind has changed. Flying cargo from – say – Hamburg to Rome, Copenhagen to Athens or Madrid to Budapest enjoys a revival.
Agents and carriers confirm that the number of unit load devices and boxes fitting into the holds of passenger aircraft operating intra Europe is increasing steadily. This siphons away volumes that were formerly trucked across the EU to consolidation centers such as Paris, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, London or Amsterdam, including general cargo.
This new road-to-air tendency is confirmed by Jochen Leibfritz, Head of Cargo Central and Northern Europe at Swiss WorldCargo. “Air freighting goods on pan-European flights has become more interesting for us lately. As a European carrier with its hub in the heart of the continent we are happy to offer in addition to our road feeder services an excellent intra-European flight program to our customers,” the manager told CargoForwarder.
He therefore affirms a development that came up in a rather creeping way but gains pace day after day.
Road feeder services face growing challenges
According to industry observers, the rising demand for flying goods within Europe as a preferred option to trucking does not come as big surprise. Reason for this gradual modal shift is that the surface infrastructure has not been developed as it should have been in the past years. It seems that public investments in highways, bridges or tunnels do not have top political priority in some parts of Europe. Hence, the surface infrastructure was neglected, deteriorating the road network continuously.
From the cargo industry’s point of view this negligence is particularly regrettable because pan-European road feeder services are still the backbone of air transports. There are still considerable volumes of special products that need to be trucked from their production site to the airports and vice versa in case of imports. Without reliable road feeder services cargo supply chains would collapse in Europe.
Nonetheless, fact is that the obstacles for haulage have mounted and keep on growing. Evidenced by the many unfavorable factors, such as large jams caused constantly by heavy traffic, a conspicuous number of construction sites leading to bottleneck situations, poor surface infrastructure particularly in the Balkan countries but not only there and last but not least deviations caused by broken bridges, severely damaged roads or accidents, to name but a few restraining effects.
The result is that shipments zigzagging across Europe bound to be dropped off punctually at gateways like Frankfurt, London, Paris or Amsterdam increasingly risk missing their booked flight.
Advantage: air transport
“Our customers perceive us as a quality carrier and expect the consignments they entrust us to be flown as booked,” emphasizes Mr Leibfritz. “This is a matter of principle on which we cannot compromise,” he adds. Consequently, the number of goods flown by Swiss WorldCargo on intra-European routes has increased, improving the punctuality level.
In the case of his airline, the manager speaks of shipments with clearly defined lead time standards of transportation that are frequently booked on Swiss flights within Europe, for instance between Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula or western Europe and the Balkan region.
This also applies to consignments bound to European leisure destinations such as Cyprus, Pristina and some others. However, these and similar touristic routes are not operated by Swiss but their subsidiary Edelweiss Air. A fact that doesn’t make much difference since the lower deck capacity of the Edelweiss regional and long-haul fleet is entirely marketed by Swiss WorldCargo.
Truck drivers badly wanted
Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, it can be expected that the modal shift from truck to air in the European cargo landscape will further intensify. This, because road traffic will keep growing year after year, as reliable surveys predict. But also, because there won’t be enough truck drivers, navigating their vehicles permanently across the continent. German forwarding agents and trucking companies are already lacking 45,000 truck drivers, surveys confirm. In 2020, estimates show these vacancies will go up to 150,000. And this is only the tip of the iceberg because the road feeder sector in France, the Netherlands, Belgium or Austria is facing similar problems.
Hence, intra-European air transports seem to have a bright future unless automated trucks will supersede vehicles driven by humans.