Real estate, people, and digitalization are important enablers for growth, says Brussels Airport’s new Director of Cargo and Logistics, Geert Aerts (GA). He succeeded predecessor Steven
Polmans last March.
Cargo and Logistics is a separate department under the umbrella of Business Development which, in turn, reports directly to CEO, Arnaud Feist.
“It was a deliberate move by Brussels Airport Company (BAC) to position Cargo & Logistics as a department which is clearly visible and is able to set out its own strategy and
execution,” stated Mr Aerts while speaking exclusively with CargoForwarder Global.
He went on to say: “We do not cast aside the synergies within Brussels Airport Company, but we run a business that is different from passengers. We have our own budget, mirrored by expectations on earnings, which have to be in balance.”
CFG: You took the helm on 08MAR21, amid the pandemic. Isn’t it incredibly challenging to change captains at a ship caught in a storm?
GA: “I took over from a much-respected captain, who had brought the ship on a very distant voyage and who had set out the right course, together with his team. In these circumstances, it was wonderfully comfortable to take over.”
“At the same time, it offered an opportunity to write my own story and to speed up the on-going processes. Over the past 18 months, the cargo business at Brussels Airport went through an unprecedented growth.”
“We have the opportunity to further capitalize on our four specialties: Pharma, Live Animals, Perishables, and e-Commerce, aiming at further expansion in every one of them, and taking our digitalization efforts further. If we compare pre-Covid JAN-AUG19 to the same period this year - post-Covid, if you like - we had a growth of 34%. 2020 had a comparable growth.”
CFG: Despite the lack of belly capacity?
GA: “Our full-freighter capacity has increased by nearly 50%.”
CFG: What sort of organization did you inherit from Steven Polmans?
GA: “A formidable team, with which I am allowed to work every day. Today, there are ten of us, and we have five outstanding job openings.”
Real Estate Growth
CFG: How would you describe the policy you wish to pursue?
GA: “One of the enablers for growth is real estate, creating space. Giving the Cargo & Logistics department direct control over real estate development was also a calculative choice.”
“We want to upgrade our existing infra- and superstructure. Currently, we are refurbishing a first line warehouse in collaboration with Hongyuan. They will use it as a warehouse. At the moment, they have a few flights at BRU, which will be extended. They are an important player in e-Commerce traffic from China. We are also in the process of upgrading Swissport’s accommodation by refurbishing and expanding their warehouse.”
“Other projects under construction or planned, are at the old ‘Brucargo Central,” our so-called 2nd line, where a lot of buildings will be pulled down to be replaced by modern and sustainable infrastructure.”
Digitalization and People
“An extraordinarily strong and clear course has been set out around the four segments I mentioned: Pharma, Live Animals, Perishables, and e-Commerce, but we also want to move forward regarding digitalization. This, too, is an immensely powerful enabler, not least towards greater efficiency and sustainability.”
“As for the latter, together with twenty-one other partners, among which are ACB and DHL, we were recently selected and subsidized by the European Commission for our ‘Stargate’ project, which is part of the Green Deal. In the real estate development, this aspect will also be very prominent, conceived from a circular economy perspective. Our future warehouses will be fueled by green energy.”
“The third enabler not to be overlooked, is people. This is a very people-incentive industry, demanding a lot of flexibility from our staff and future staff. We need to attract a lot of talent and make sure that we are able to keep them. That is why we will be a highly active participant on the Brussels Airport Job Day on 19OCT21. Our warehouses must be more sustainable, and we must work more digitally, but our people must be persuaded to continue what they are doing.”
CFG: What is the difference between the pre- and post- Covid-19 Brucargo? It must have been difficult to steer this kind of operation from your kitchen table.
GA: “Indeed. This is a community which was used to a lot of interaction in an ad-hoc and last-minute environment. Where necessary, people were present. We had installed a hybrid kind of working.”
CFG: Are there any specific routes you would like to develop?
GA: “Our strength is in our specialties, and although Latin America may be more served on other airports, with our perishable strategy, we are certainly putting a focus on this region. We also like to look at Brussels Airlines and its African network in support of this strategy. Other regions of growing importance are the Middle East, Asia, and especially China. North America, too, remains an important market for us.”
CFG: Brussels Airlines is not really a home carrier anymore. Is that a handicap or an advantage?
GA: “Seen from Brucargo, they are absolutely a strong partner, and they provide capacity on the routes that are part of our strength, and I think that this relationship will last. There is also DHL, which is not only a strong integrator, but also offers airlift capacity to others”.
“Qatar, and Ethiopian, and the Chinese carriers, are also particularly important, as much as the many long-lasting, diverse, and loyal partnerships we have with various carriers such as Asiana, Singapore, etc. We are convinced that the Chinese carriers want to concentrate more and more on Brussels right in the triangle of the European fulfilment centers, and for the connectivity and expertise we deliver.”
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels
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