“Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to restructure Cargo Division” is the title of the press release sent out on 07JAN21. All well and good, one thinks, given the global consensus that the importance of cargo was never more evident than during this pandemic. Yet, reading on, it appears that cargo is slipping down a couple of notches in the hierarchical ladder, as it melds into a more general “Aviation Business Development Division” which is, in turn, a subdivision of the “Airport Operations and Aviation Partnerships Business Unit,” to be headed by Patricia Vitalis from 01MAR21.
“Cargo is, and remains, important to Schiphol and it supports the passenger network, making certain intercontinental routes profitable for many passenger airlines…,” Miriam Hoekstra-van der Deen (currently Director Airport Operations until the handover to Patricia Vitalis on 01MAR21) is quoted as saying. It sounds more like cargo is a tolerated relative at the dinner table and leads one to wonder if Schiphol somehow failed to notice the extraordinary events over the past 10 months. In a current world, where there is scarcely a profitable passenger route, whilst cargo rates are still at a very high level and cargo charters are bringing in more money than ever before, that sentence seems to have been lifted out of a book written 20 years ago.
Jack of all trades… master of none
Schiphol’s two cargo heavy-weights, Bart Pouwels, Head of Cargo, and Ferry van der Ent, Director of Business Development “will both leave Schiphol in March,” the release goes on to say. Insiders told CFG that they were offered lucrative severance packages as Schiphol looked to reduce “superfluous” staff in its effort to move to “a leaner structure and cost-savings” due to Covid-19. "We would like to thank Bart and Ferry for their inspirational leadership over the years at Schiphol Cargo and wish them the best for the future," Miriam Hoekstra – van der Deen is quoted as saying, whilst the release points out that “a manager for the new Airline and Cargo Partnerships team will be appointed over the coming weeks.”
Apparently one who will join Anne Marie van Hemert’s team which combines “all airline and cargo commercial and operational business into a single division.”
Cargo swept neatly into a corner
As Senior Manager Aviation Business Development, Hemert will then report to Patricia Vitalis, who comments: “Having the route and business development managers and the cargo managers working more closely together will bring more synergy to the way we work and ensure that we can better support the airlines, especially during these challenging times.” Whilst there may be some benefits in the cooperation, the impression is more one of cargo becoming a very watered-down coffee. Everything cargo-related, such as the recently acquired Cargonaut, has been neatly swept into the Aviation Business Development Division – a title that does not even feature cargo in its wording. With the main cargo experts gone, and cargo not appearing in its own, focused entity anywhere near the upper echelons, Schiphol is advised to wish itself “the best for the future,” surrounded as it is by tough airport competitors when it comes to cargo.
“What do you expect when neither government nor managers understand cargo?”
Along with news that the Cargonaut Port Community System (PCS) modernization is still scheduled over the next 24 months, to “future-proof” Schiphol's cargo community, Patricia Vitalis explains that “the new division will continue to support ongoing cargo initiatives by the community including Vaccines Gateway Netherlands, Pharma Gateway Amsterdam, the Holland Flower Alliance, and the Smart Cargo Mainport Program (SCMP), and will continue to fight for a dedicated cargo slot pool,” going on to pronounce that “we aim to be the smartest and most sustainable cargo hub in Europe.”
Surely, if cargo features in the vision, it should be pushed to the top? An expert speaking to CFG is scathing in his evaluation of the restructuring, pointing to a managerial lack of cargo-understanding evident in the “cargo supporting passenger comment,” cemented by a national government that also does not comprehend what is required in air cargo logistics, imposing a restrictive limit of 500,000 slots, and a national carrier that, for years, has “openly said cargo freighters are not needed. We are a belly carrier,” which has “been failing miserably in the cargo business,” having lost both influence and control since moving together with Air France and Martinair, and which is looking to “get rid of the KLM 747-400F” it operates, too. Add to that, an ever-changing list of cargo managers.
“If KLM does not believe in cargo, why should Schiphol?”
The Schiphol focus has been on Low-Cost Carriers, instead of cargo. In the meantime, the world has been changing. Nearby airports have moved with the times, going with a cargo and e-commerce focus, though integrators and e-commerce key players such as SF Express and Amazon who are rapidly growing their own fleets, are “killing airline yield in cargo in the past 10 years,” and posing additional challenges to the forwarder-airline relationship, especially in the under 300 kg segment. Once the current PPE-gold-rush and capacity crisis calms down, the cargo business will be a tough playing field again. One that requires clear, dedicated focus.
“If KLM does not believe in cargo, why should Schiphol?,” he concludes.
We always welcome your comments to our articles. However, we can only publish them when the sender name is authentic.