… as do freighters, preighters, and cargo volumes over at Vienna International Airport, Austria. What sets it apart? How has it been navigating the pandemic, and what are its plans for the future? CFG spoke to Michael Zach, Vice President Sales & Finance Ground Handling and Cargo Operations, and Wolfgang Scheibenpflug, Senior Vice President Real Estate and Landside Management at Flughafen Wien AG to find out.
CFG: What are the experiences and lessons learned from the pandemic when it comes to Vienna Airport’s cargo business?
Zach: The pandemic has clearly shown that air freight is indispensable. Particularly during this period, the entire cargo industry proved how adaptable it is: In order to secure supplies, ways were quickly found to make air freight possible despite severely restricted air traffic. For example, by means of "Preighter" flights - normal passenger aircraft converted into cargo aircraft, or by cargo charter flights. The market follows demand quickly and flexibly. Going forward, cargo handling will need a structure to respond flexibly to constantly changing requirements and challenges.
CFG: What are the plans for cargo at VIE for 2022?
Zach: In 2022, Vienna Airport will almost reach the level of cargo volume of the pre-crisis year 2019. Aid flights and medical cargo have contributed to the good development, but cargo volume in general has also been steadily increasing in recent years, and we expect an increased resumption of land routes in the second half of 2022. This will result in more belly cargo again. Together with preighter and charter flights, this will lead to regular air traffic once more. In future, we will focus on intensive preparation for the "New Normal" and ensuring flexible structures at our location. We are focusing on digitization and even more efficient processes.
CFG: How does VIE establish itself as an attractive cargo location next to BUD and MUC? What makes VIE different?
Zach: Located in the heart of Europe, Vienna Airport is an efficient hub between East and West. Particularly in the East, Vienna Airport acts as the first point of entry for air freight, which is then transported by road, for example by truck, to neighboring countries. The automotive and electronics industries, for example, use Vienna Airport to transport goods to plants in Eastern Europe. Vienna Airport offers many advantages, such as fast handling times, direct data exchange with freight forwarders, efficient customs processes in close cooperation with the authorities at the location, and overall high handling quality by experienced and qualified personnel. The road feeder network is also strong, especially to Eastern Europe.
Scheibenpflug: Vienna Airport is investing heavily in its site, for example in the development of new cargo buildings, some of which are directly connected to the airport apron. We offer customers and partners a total of more than 45,000 m² of cargo space, and we are also the only airport in Eastern Europe to operate our own Pharma Handling Center. With the help of this showcase project, we are able to guarantee optimal and certified conditions for pharmaceutical products and safely handle temperature-sensitive medical cargo. In addition, we can offer our customers many other development opportunities and services, such as state-of-the-art office space in our AirportCity, or commercial properties in the immediate vicinity of the airport. Makita, DHL, cargo-partner, and many others have already settled on a site adjacent to the airport. In future, DLH's (Deutsche Logistik Holding) largest logistics center in Austria will also be built here.
CFG: How is the VIE Cargo Community being served? Which topics are close to their hearts?
Scheibenpflug: We attach great importance to supporting the Cargo Community. Regular contact with our site partners is maintained by a dedicated team. During the course of meetings and joint workshops, challenges are discussed, and solutions developed. Sustainable positive development of a site can only be achieved through good and trusting cooperation between all site partners.
Zach: The Pharma Handling Center, for example, is a project that resulted at the request of and in close coordination with freight forwarders and airlines. Since the start of operations in 2018, we have seen continuous volume growth and increasing cooperation.
CFG: VIE's Sustainability Goals - what do they look like, how far along is VIE, are there any flagship projects? Is VIE working in tandem with other airports in this regard?
Scheibenpflug: Vienna Airport has set itself the goal of becoming one of the first airports in the world to achieve climate neutrality; as early as 2023, we want to be the first "Green Airport" to operate completely CO2-neutral. In addition to a large number of individual measures to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, we have set a clear example with our new "Office Park 4", Austria's most sustainable office building. The consistent use of geothermal energy and photovoltaics (PV), for example, ensures that the building is partially self-sufficient in terms of energy. Austria's largest PV plant, covering an area of 24 hectares, is currently under construction. From 2022, this will cover around 30% of the airport's total electricity requirements in a climate-neutral manner. From the first half of 2022, the airport will also have access to environmentally friendly district heating through a joint project with OMV.
Zach: We are also focusing on climate-friendly solutions in handling. Around 400 airport vehicles are now electrically powered. Recently, we even tested an electric aircraft tractor, and for several years now we have been gradually replacing the vehicle fleet at the airport with climate-friendly alternatives.
CFG: What are the biggest challenges for VIE right now, and how are they being addressed?
Zach: At present, the entire aviation industry is still strongly feeling the effects of the corona crisis, and one of the challenges are the volatile cargo volumes in this regard. Even though passenger numbers in Vienna have not yet fully recovered, there are definitely increased peak times in the cargo sector. Ensuring good and stable quality here requires a high degree of flexibility and close cooperation in handling. We invest a lot in the training and cross-qualification of our employees, in order to be able to react quickly to new requirements.
Scheibenpflug: We are currently working on the end-to-end digitization of freight processes. This development is crucial in order to make optimum use of existing resources and make our site fit for the future.
Thank you, Michael Zach and Wolfgang Scheibenpflug, for your insights into what is happening at and what is planned for Vienna Airport in future.
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