The cargo volumes of air cargo broker Coastair have long since moved from Ostend to Liege Airport, where it is well established with block space agreements and ancillary services. The company was among the launch customers of Saudia Cargo’s new service from Liege Airport to JFK.
The company’s origin in the coastal airport of Ostend is still reflected in its name. Set up 22 years ago the operation was moved to Liege in 2011, as did the greater part of OST’s traffic, says
founder and managing director Ronny Samaey.
“All the cargo is here at LGG. Some 30 years ago the B707’s, DC8’s and IL76’s were precisely the aircraft I needed. They served our OST operation very well, until the new noise regulations were introduced.”
But eventually you decided to move to Liege?
RS: “Even if we had a small office here to serve MD11, B747 and DC10 traffic, I had to start all over again at LGG. We had to convince our OST customers to move to LGG and we did so successfully.”
Brokering has remained Coastair’s core business?
“We have also set up our own virtual airline ‘Imperial Airlines Cargo’, which issues its own Air Waybills (765). From LGG the company flies what used to be Coastair’s traditional cargo from OST to Lagos and Accra, in those days served by Race Cargo Airlines. When the owners decided to retire, we bought these routes, which have been served now by Ethiopian Cargo for 12 years.”
So, through a block space agreement Coastair has 60 out of 100 tonnes a week - one way - on a B777 connecting LGG with the African destinations mentioned above.
“Whenever we have more, we put it on their Addis Ababa aircraft. This is our strength. Ethiopian has supported us with their charters since 1998,” the manager states
And apart from Africa?
“With ASL Airlines, Coastair has also set up a block space agreement to Jinan and since 6 October also with Saudia Cargo to New York. We sell all these flights as if they were our own, even if they are not covered by our own AWB. And it will not stop there, because last month we received IATA’s approval for the International Clearing House, enabling interline agreements.”
How can you compete in an environment of immense competition involving large players?
“The service level is imperative. Apart from offering trucking and customs clearance, we supervise palletising and loading on board of the aircraft according to the ‘check the checker, supervise the supervisor’ principle.”
As an Africa specialist, do you feel the competition from the Middle East carriers?
“You have to draw a line. You can opt to send everything through Doha, Dubai or Jeddah, but these are all large hubs where lots of things can go wrong, which does not mean that I would like to comment on the efforts of the ME carriers. But this is the aspect in which we can make the difference. Besides, over the past 20 years I have flown a lot of food charters with a lot of companies and I have built up a network of my own in those stations.”
How do you compare LGG to OST?
“Here at LGG you will find a lot of cargo coming from other regions with African destinations. LGG offers a cocktail of companies and routes, all needing return or on-going cargo. In OST we only had Africa.”
Warehouse and stand-alone departments
At LGG, the company also runs its own off-airport 2,500 m² warehouse, Sky House, where the pallets are built up and trucks can load and offload.
“This was done out of frustration about the waiting times at the airport cargo handlers, which were incompatible with the service level we want to offer.
Keeping these operations under our own control allows pallet optimisation,” says Mr Samaey.
“The first 2,500 kilos on your pallet do not make the difference, but the last 300 to 400 kilos on 20 pallets really do. With other airlines like Qatar, Emirates, ASL, RAM and Ethiopian lining up to make use of this opportunity as well, the decision has been taken to turn this activity into a separate department.”
An existing stand-alone department is Aviaflex, exclusively focusing on cargo supervision for high value consignments, works of art, aircraft engines and pharma. This operation started at LGG, but has expanded to Brussels, Frankfurt, Hahn, Luxembourg and Amsterdam.
Compared to the 45 people employed by Coastair in OST, the LGG team has 11. One of them is CEO Pascale De Mieter, Mr Samaey’s partner in private life as well, and a veteran in the air cargo business. Her views will be shared in a separate article published in this CFG issue.
Marcel Schoeters in Liege
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