Thanks to the collaborated efforts of its entire cargo community, Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport has managed to maintain its pivotal role in supporting the French economy and keeping its head above the water, says Edouard Mathieu in this exclusive interview. He is the Development Manager of the airport and, as such, responsible for the ADP Group’s air freight business.
Among the first to react to the new Covid-19 reality were for instance Bolloré Logistics, Qatar Cargo, and WFS. Jointly, they launched a B777 charter operation bringing medical supplies in from
China to Europe, with a stop-over at Doha. The aircraft also carried aeronautical and industrial products. This is just one example among many of the community driven approach, says Mr
CFG: With passenger traffic collapsing, how did you manage to turn Paris-CDG from a mixed traffic airport into a full-blown cargo platform?
EM: “We have the advantage at Paris-Charles de Gaulle that we have always had a perfect balance between full-cargo flights and passenger belly operations. As a result, several airlines like Air France, Korean Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and also Qatar Airways, which normally operate in both modes, have therefore been able to adapt quickly to the present crisis.”
“The real challenge was in the sturdiness of our cargo activity and in this respect I have to pay tribute to the strong mobilization of all the actors in the air freight community: civil aviation and customs authorities, air traffic control, freight forwarders, handlers, and obviously airlines. Each one of them strongly mobilized with a strong partnership approach towards all other actors, to safeguard the continuation of the flows of merchandise.”
“As a result, the entire air cargo chain has stayed in place and has been able to provide a full capacity offer thanks to new frequencies of ‘ferry’ flights, passenger aircraft which are filled with cargo, thus addressing the demand at Paris-CDG. And this demand remains strong in the greater Paris region export and import markets.”
Were you compelled to resort to specific measures to implement the conditions needed?
“Some specific measures have indeed been introduced. More than ten airlines have adapted their aircraft for the ferry operations I mentioned. This kind of operation is especially useful for more than one purpose. It keeps the crews operational, provides extra capacity for health-related flights, and offers the best guarantee for a restart. As for the latter, we are very vigilant within the ADP Group for signals of a restart, and we are already working on several scenarios. One thing is certain: this crisis definitively confirms that cargo plays a vital role for any major airport, and furthermore, for supplying the population with foodstuff and consumables, including industrial items.”
Were the logistic companies ready to weather the storm?
“Adaptability and resilience form the genetic makeup of these companies. All freight forwarders, handlers, and airlines were soon on war footing to adapt and allocate extra capacity to back the need for goods transportation, still compliant with all other standards of the logistic chain.”
“The best proof for this is that - so far - we have not encountered any single issue in the on-forwarding of the production of our major industries: food, beverages, e-commerce, and even luxury goods.”
Your home carrier Air France offers mainly belly space for carrying cargo. Has this fact caused any capacity problems?
“Our goal is to serve all of our clients, including of course top dogs such as FedEx and Air France, whose major hubs are at Paris-CDG. Air France is one of these companies that on top of operating freighters, also embarked on the ferry concept.
Like other companies at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, Air France currently plays a vital role in the crisis, ensuring transportation of usual cargo segments like perishables and e-commerce, both of which are subject to a huge demand. Last but not least, Air France also plays a vital role in our ‘sanitary air bridge’ with China.”
Which main lesson has the ADP Group learned from this situation?
“Our prime concern today, as France’s N°1 airport, is to stand at the side of our fellow citizens and industrial partners. This is our daily battle, and we will look for post crisis key learnings later on, as it is still too soon to draw any definite conclusion as to where the industry might then shift to. Of course, the operations on the ground will never be the same as before the crisis and there will surely be adjustments in the chain, like safeguarding and improving the sanitary conditions of the staff.”
“For the rest, I do not think that this crisis will bring a big change to the basics of overseas transport. Whatever the frequency or the network of an airline, a passenger aircraft will always increase its bottom line when transporting belly cargo. This basic economical law will not be challenged by the pandemic.”
Any signs that the present crisis might reinforce the position of CDG as a preferential air cargo hub in Europe?
“Paris-Charles de Gaulle is at the moment the first air cargo hub in Continental Europe, with 2.1 million tons in 2019 and a potential of 3.6 million tons. Our cargo city is the largest in Europe with 300 hectares occupied by one single tenant (FedEx) and 700,000 m² of buildings giving direct access to taxiways.”
“Once the crisis passes, environmental concerns will again prevail, and they will automatically favor belly cargo. For over 10 years, Paris-Charles de Gaulle has been racing ahead with the highest belly/full freighter ratio among European hubs (60/40), and this will indeed reveal an always stronger decision-making driver for shippers and forwarders to allocate their flows among competing airports.”
Marcel Schoeters in Paris
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