Alleged handling constraints and some uncertainty regarding the future role of FedEx have not put a damper on Liege Airport’s expansion strategy.
Liege’s Commercial & Logistics Manager, Bert Selis (BS), and Communication Manager, Christian Delcourt (CD), are certainly not put off by the impact of the market conditions on the decision-making process of their clients, as both managers emphasize in this exclusive CargoForwarder Global (CFG) interview.
CFG: What is your answer to the rumors that handling constraints may have driven potential customers elsewhere?
BS: The handling situation isn’t perfect, but every airport has its problems and -while we grow - we try to improve things. When the airlines encounter difficulties, we help them. On other airports they may complain, but nothing changes.
Cargo handling is super complex. For a small percentage margin, you have to be able to adapt to the circumstances, to motivate and keep your staff, to invest, etc. They are working at razor’s edge. We do realize that in certain things there is room for improvement.
CD: As for the bottlenecks, we already said there were a lot of challenges in the quality of the service, fuel supply, and mobility on and around the airport in an environment of strong growth. We are still very satisfied.
You should look at this in a much wider perspective. The maritime group CMA-CGM has reported a shortage of 700,000 containers, they are short of ships, trucks, and port labor. This is a global problem.
Multimodality is the name of the game
CFG: Some players, like Hongyuan, prefer airports offering a considerable belly capacity over all-cargo airports. Is that an evolution that could harm cargo airports?
BS:These groups need all-cargo airports as well as other airports bringing additional belly capacity. Hongyuan has 13,000 m² of warehousing space at Liege, supported by flights. They have set up their European operation from Belgium.
CD: They have opted for Belgium for the availability of seaports, airports, and inland ports. Multimodality is also part of our marketing plan. Within this system, our specialty is in freighter aircraft, and there is complementarity as well as competition. Belgium is a platform that delivers logistics at a high level.
CFG: Have you already assessed the impact of the downsizing of the FedEx operation?
CD: FedEx is the largest customer of the airport, and I must admit that we did not enjoy their decision. In the meantime, they have reduced their initial number of job losses from 700 to 200. Between their initial plan and today, the market has changed.
BS: Of the B737 flights, only half will remain. On the other hand, when they increase the B747 flights, the impact on the tonnage will be smaller as 1 B747 equals 5 B737’s. We also find growth with our other customers.
CD: We have helped TNT/FedEx grow, but we also attracted other customers at the same time. FedEx has done what the market suggested, but we are still talking to their management.
Warehousing capacity expansion
CFG: Can you elaborate on the short-mid and long-term projects?
BS: In the very short term, there is the opening of the 30,000 m² Cainiao hub, followed by 12,000 m² for Challenge. So, this year, we will have added 42,000 m² of warehousing. Already last year, AirBridgeCargo started handling activities within a 12,000 m² comprising facility.
CD: On 19NOV21, work will start on the new 36 ha West zone “Fontaine”, dedicated for 2nd line airport related business. In April next year, we hope to have finished the missing North-East section of the ring road around the airport.
In the longer term, we are looking into truck parking in Cargo Nord. The lengthening of the secondary runway from 2,400 to 3,200 m remains high on the agenda. This would enable more fluidity in the traffic flows. The main runway of 3,700 m perfectly suits our needs.
BS: We are also looking into a fuel station supplied by a rail connection through the neighboring Railport site.
Marcel Schoeters in Liege
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