It is always explorative to look at the air cargo industry from an outsider´s perspective. Much needed change often comes from a new regard on old problems.
However, having reviewed the outline of Dr. van Asch´s dissertation, “we find some of his conclusions difficult to comprehend,” Energy in Process (EIP) executives, Franz van Hessen Heuckeroth and Gerton Hulsman, object in their critical examination of Thomas van Asch’s central thesis (published in this CFG issue).
Firstly, even though air freight plays a major role in the distribution of day-to-day merchandize, we do not recognize that the full-service airports really embrace their cargo development to the
extent that would be necessary in view of its paramount source of revenue. In fact, the recent reorganizations in reaction to the current crisis seem to confirm that cargo still has little to no
attention within most airport organizations.
This is no different in Frankfurt, which Dr. van Asch considers to be the European cargo star. Even though Frankfurt is undeniably the biggest of the cargo gateways in the Central European region, it is difficult to attribute this success to a designated cargo strategy by the airport operator. Instead, it resembles more of a zigzag course, as a look at the past years proves.
A combination of favorable factors leads to success
Which brings us to an additional element where we would challenge Dr. van Asch´s dissertation: The focus an airport can take and the influence an operator has in shaping its cargo future.
After more than 30 years in airport cargo management, we can say that those airports playing a leading role in air freight matters are ones that have successfully managed to develop or take advantage of 6 intertwined strategic pillars:
- A favorable geographical and infrastructural environment on and around the airport
- A cargo-friendly regulatory environment influencing and impacting freight operations, such as night flight restrictions vs 24/7/365 access
- An abundant local labor market
- A cooperative, innovative, and data-sharing cargo community eager to deliver quality to the market.
- A well-developed air and road network, including state-of-the-art freight terminals
- A transparent and customer-friendly communication strategy
In fact, such infrastructural, operational, and managerial circumstances need to be considered by airport executives when shaping an adequate cargo strategy tailored to local conditions and customer needs.
However, they often have only a limited influence in setting the above-mentioned parameters. They must be flanked by political support in combination with a cargo-friendly environment.
Absence of a strong home carrier does not have to be a disadvantage
Airports that have successfully differentiated themselves in developing their cargo activities, have primarily done so by smart marketing and exquisite stakeholder management.
This applies especially to those airports that did not have the support of a strong home carrier. It is no surprise that especially these airports have managed to attract the integrators and more recently the e-commerce supply chain partners.
‘Business as usual’ has no future
We acknowledge Dr. van Asch in his statement that over time the role of air cargo has become more important within the overall portfolio of airlines and airports. We believe there are many signs indicating that this will further develop in the near future.
It is therefore remarkable that we do not see any paradigm shift being reflected in the business planning of most airports whose cargo strategy we have put under the microscope.
It is striking that where airlines anticipate a future with significant changes to their business models, airports – for now - seem to restrict their activities by managing costs and buying time until the market recovers.
It would be recommendable that - especially in these challenging times - top management of full-service airports sit down and take action, fostering the potential of air freight for creating and sustaining jobs, its increasing role as financial contributor to the daily business and generator of economic value.
Cargo is kept on a short leash
In contrast, our findings suggest that top executives responsible for the well-being of major full-service airports effectively curb the influence of their cargo departments, instead of giving them more freedom and responsibilities to effectively manage their specific freight business.
Finally, our forecast reads: Unless the full-service airports start taking a more balanced approach with respect to their passenger and cargo business, European supply chains will be increasingly centralized, concentrating on pure cargo airports, as evidenced by latest data. Provided this happens, full-service airports such as Amsterdam, Heathrow, or Brussels, to name but a few, will only play the second or even third fiddle when it comes to cargo throughput. In a nutshell, it can be said that we differ in our assessment of cargo airports and their role, at least in part, from the results presented by Mr. van Asch in his dissertation.
Franz van Hessen Heuckeroth / Gerton Hulsman
EIP Energy in Process GmbH
EIP is a management and consulting firm, dedicated to support the air cargo industry. The author’s experience-based knowledge encompasses forwarding, ground handling, airline, and airport management.