The Walloon airport intends to create an entire new cargo and logistics village for accommodating forwarders, ground handlers, and other logistics players. By doing so, the management is paving the way for long-term growth and expanding its own business and service spectrum. Besides further growth in tonnage, the quality of the processes is to play a key role in future, emphasizes CEO Laurent Jossart.
In 2021, Liège Airport (LGG) handled 1,412,498 tons of air freight; a record growth of 26% year-on-year. In addition, 170,000 tons were transported by cargo trains from China, arriving at a
nearby railway station. Road feeder traffic is another important pillar for the airport, ensuring the constant flow of goods from and to the airport premises.
“From what used to be a cargo-only airport, we are continuously evolving into a multi-modal hub that embraces all modes of transport,” says Mr. Jossart, who has been sitting in the driver’s seat of the Walloon airport since December 2021.
New cargo complex
Mr. Jossart and his management team intend to continue and even speed up this journey. He maintains that fast success can primarily be achieved by developing a 400-hectare area that is at LGG’s disposal. New plots of land will progressively be prepared to accommodate logistics facilities. It is embedded in a master plan 2040 which will see new warehouse spaces becoming available from 2023 onwards. At the site, freight terminals will be built to attract ground handling agents alongside office spaces for use by forwarding companies, he announces.
This way, an entire new cargo and logistics village will be created, widely enlarging the service spectrum offered to the cargo community at the Walloon airport. Once construction work is completed, Liège will be able to provide the market with key ecosystem services based on a holistic approach.
Prior to that, LGG intends to select a new partner to drive digitalization forward. The goal is to set up a digital network that connects all stakeholders and provides a platform for cross-company information exchange. This would be a significant step forward, speeding up processes and making them transparent for all stakeholders involved, including customs.
He did not say which provider would be chosen, but indicated that Nallian has a fair chance of being awarded the contract. The Belgian IT and communications manager has already successfully networked BRUcargo, i.e., all air freight operators active at Brussels Airport.
Volumes tending to normalize
Touching the 2022 outlook, Mr. Jossart points out that quality improvements are at the top of his agenda. “Following our huge leap in tonnage last year, we expect to grow volumes only in the single digit range in the months ahead.” However, he is not unhappy that handling volumes are tending to normalize, because a lower turnover level translates into better handling quality, making the throughput more stable and easier to plan.
The handling shortcomings proved to be the biggest obstacle in 2021, when volumes literally went through the roof, substantially delaying the flow of shipments. It was little consolation to the LGG managers that other busy cargo airports such as Frankfurt or Amsterdam were not really faring any better. At least the structural barriers have now been eliminated, thanks to the inauguration of a 12,000 m² warehouse on airport a few days ago, and an even bigger facility comprising 30,000 m² which went online last November. Its space is used for handling e-commerce consignments sent by Alibaba to Liège. Yet, despite this relief, “the handling quality is a persisting issue in the industry,” CEO Jossart states.
The fact that the manager does not expect another boom year, may also be related to FedEx's partial withdrawal from Liège. FedEx decided to relocate the majority of its fleet of B737 freighters from LGG to Paris CDG, the U.S. integrator’s largest European hub.
The manager took on his role as CEO of Liège Airport just a few weeks ago. Prior to that, he held various management positions in the Luxair Group over the past 14 years, and headed LuxairCARGO, the cargo handler, for 5 years.
He gives three main reasons for his decision: The job at LGG is much more holistic than his previous duties because of its many facets. Secondly, as a native Belgian, he was drawn back to his home country after a long stay abroad. And thirdly, he has been a follower of the Standard Liège soccer club since childhood, which was a key emotional driver for his homecoming and airport commitment in addition to private reasons. Whereas in his time in Luxembourg, he used to travel long distances by car to attend games, he can now virtually walk to the Stade Maurice Dufrasne of Standard Liège to watch his team play.
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