Finally, positive news voiced by the management of troubled Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER) is drawing public attention. Compared to 2020, BER expects cargo to grow 20% in 2021, steadily nearing volumes handled in pre-covid 2019. Patrick Muller, Senior Vice President Operations, delivered these figures along with a positive forecast to the members of the German Air Cargo Association (ACD). It was the organization’s first in-person event since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic almost 2 years ago.
Two developments in particular are driving the recovery of the cargo business in Germany’s capital city airport: The upping of freighter flights and the increased lower deck capacity offered by passenger airlines now resuming the flights to BER that they had suspended during the pandemic. “A key reason for airlines to up their Berlin flights, is the growing share of e-commerce items,” Mr. Muller told the ACD group members. e-commerce grew by 13% compared to 2020. The jump in demand prompted integrators to offer additional main deck capacity to/from Berlin. A trend that is expected to continue mid-term. FedEx, for example, announced that it will be deploying medium-haul Boeing 757 freighter aircraft to BER by the end of October, once the winter flight schedule starts, replacing the formerly operated Boeing 737F narrow-body freighters. UPS upped its capacity, too, servicing Berlin with widebody Boeing 767F. “We expect that more airlines will commence operating widebody cargo aircraft to Berlin,” Mr. Muller stated.
Tesla is BER Cargo’s ray of hope
In this regard, he pointed to the emerging Tesla factory in nearby Maerkische Heide, where car production is expected to start before the end of this year. “This proves that the entire metropolitan Berlin region is becoming increasingly important as a location for industrial production. Especially when it comes to establishing supply chains for transporting highly technological and time-sensitive goods, a nearby airport with reliable cargo capacities and handling knowhow is paramount,” Patrick Muller told the ACD members. A similar view is taken by the Berlin-Brandenburg Business Promotion Agency that speaks of the key role an intercontinental airport plays in motivating global companies such as Tesla, to settle in the capital region. This aspect is also confirmed by ACD President Christopher Stoller: “Well-connected, efficient, and reliable air freight centers are deciding factors for producing industries to settle in the vicinity, as has become evident in Berlin.”
Passenger flights are recuperating, upping lower deck capacities
In addition to the growing number of cargo-only flights, BER is also expecting throughput to rise as airlines resume passenger services, thus offering the market much sought-after lower deck capacity for cargo shipments. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, belly freight accounted for roughly 66% of all freight handled at Berlin. Meanwhile, Berlin Airport operator, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH, announced several new long-haul connections: Singapore-based Scoot just commenced flying 3 times per week with Boeing 787s, while United Airlines plans to connect BER with New York-Newark Liberty International starting March 2022, and Washington-Dulles in May 2022. The U.S. carrier intends to operate Boeing 767 equipment on both routes.
The ongoing expansion of cargo facilities at BER was demonstrated by Mr. Muller during an airport tour. Eyecatcher is the new Cargo Center offering more than 12,000 m² handling space. Customers can choose between the services provided by Wisag and Swissport. Twelve forwarders run offices there. Growth options also exist since a future Cargo Center 2 can be erected adjacent to the existing facility should the throughput of shipments increase at a fast pace. If so, there would be room for handling an additional 200,000 tons per year in the new building.
More still needs to be done
The Express Center hosting FedEx, UPS, and some charter companies concludes the cargo complex. It includes a section comprising 4,000 m², utilized exclusively by the German Red Cross. There, huge amounts of relief goods are stored in case natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods or volcanic eruptions trigger immediate action. ACD Chief, Christopher Stoller resumed: “With the smooth start of cargo traffic, as well as the continuous expansion of capacities, BER is on the right track to fulfill the supply needs of the capital region and become a center for freight throughput.”
However, to be able to react more quickly to increased market demand or changing procedures, politicians are also called upon, Mr. Stoller advocated. “First and foremost, it is necessary to accelerate customs procedures. The key tool for doing so is speeding up digitalization processes and creating an electronic network for the seamless exchange of data between the local cargo players and authorities involved.”
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