Although passenger traffic accounts for 80 percent of Budapest Airport’s revenues, air freight plays a major and increasing role. And this even though BUD has no home carrier in contrast to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Zurich. What initially sounds like a disadvantage, has, however, proven to be a driver of Budapest Airport’s cargo development. This is because none of the freight airlines operating there has a market share of more than 15% according to BUD Airport cargo chief, Jozsef Kossuth. “A healthy and balanced customer portfolio gives stability and minimizes the risk for us and also for our cargo customers,” he says. In plain words: should one of the freight carriers serving BUD face heavy economic headwinds and withdraw, it would be regrettable, but would not jeopardize the airport’s overall cargo business.
… make BUD very attractive for freight airlines:
First and foremost: The cargo friendliness of the airport. Evidence of this is, for example, the large state-of-the-art freight terminal, inaugurated 25NOV19 as center piece of the BUD Cargo City (including 31,200 m² of handling and forwarder buildings), which will now be followed by an additional facility due to open its doors in Q4 2023, adding up to a total of 38,000 m² of cargo handling space by the end of next year. So, BUD offers the air cargo community plenty of capacity coupled with user-friendly technical equipment, and is accessible 24/7/365, because no night curfew exists (except for some limitations to lower the noise caused by aircraft). Further to this, the management is extremely cargo minded, as local forwarding agents have unanimously confirmed to CargoForwarder Global.
Next to the favorable operational conditions, administrative support, and the advanced ground infrastructure, the geographical location of BUD is a major asset. “The catchment area stretches from the Baltics to the Balkan,” Attila Becze, Director Sub-Region Hungary and Romania of forwarding agent cargo-partner Kft., summarizes. East-west, it stretches from Romania to Austria. Budapest thus fulfills the role of a distribution center for air freight shipments, as these can be delivered to all destinations within these target corridors in a maximum of two days.
Thirdly, Hungary has developed into a production center for many industries, including mainly automotive, pharma, and telecommunications. Currently, Mercedes is extending its production center and investing 1 billion euros. BMW is building a new factory for electric cars, and Chinese battery giant, CATL, revealed plans to spend up to 7 billion euros to commence mass production of its latest generation product, Qilin, and supply car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Tesla, BMW, and Nio. In addition, automotive component producer, Bosch, announced that it is setting up a development center in Hungary, enhancing its already significant presence as evidenced by its 10,000 staff. Other companies such as Samsung SDI, SK Innovation, Audi, Semcorp, or some pharma enterprises are tending to strengthen the air cargo demand mid- and long-term, not to mention similar investments in other CEE countries in the cargo catchment area of BUD.
CV came first
All these initiatives have whetted and continue to stimulate cargo airlines’ appetite for prosperous business. Many of them scented the opportunities very early on, and began serving the airport years ago. For instance, pioneer Cargolux, which began regular BUD flights back in 2002. Today, the carrier operates three flights a week: two HKG-BUD-LUX, one CGO-BUD-LUX. In this respect it should be noted that Budapest has a special relationship with Zhengzhou Airport. Flights between the two cities are referred to as “Air Silk Road” by the partners, and are marketed accordingly. The CGO-BUD route is also served by logistics company, cargo-partner, which deploys a chartered B747F. It complements its weekly HKG-BUD flight, which will be doubled in October. Other well-known cargo airlines operating scheduled services to BUD, include Turkish Cargo, Qatar Airways Cargo, Korean Air Cargo, and AeroTransCargo from Romania. In addition, in June, Kuehne+Nagel started a weekly cargo HKG-BUD service using a B747-400 P2F conversion leased from Romanian ROM Cargo.
Two services are particularly noteworthy among the cargo flights, since they are very peculiar. One concerns A330F flights operated on behalf of the Hungarian government. The Orban administration purchased the aircraft from Qatar Airways in 2020. It did this to bypass the air capacity shortage during those months, and to supply Hungarians with much needed Chinese-produced hygiene materials, face masks, and sanitizers, to contain the spread of the Covid virus. A government buying a freighter was an unconventional but reasonable step, given the peak charter prices amounting to 2.5 million dollars for a return flight that lessors or airlines demanded in those days for a freighter of comparable size. Today, the state-owned aircraft remains in service and is operated - no joke - by Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air in cooperation with Beijing's CECZ/UTA Group on China-Hungary routes.
Another curiosity is Shanghai Airlines’ repeated “cargo” service linking PVG and BUD. No passenger ever sits on board the passenger B787. In other words: these are belly cargo-only flights.
30 + 30 = 60
Currently, all freight carriers serving Budapest account for 30 flights per week on average, mostly deploying large aircraft such as the B747-400F or B47-8F, including A330F and B777F. They all supply the market with abundant capacity, adding to the attractiveness of the airport. These services are complemented by a similar number of flights operated by integrators, with DHL Express leading the pack, followed by UPS and FedEx.
In total, BUD expects a throughput of 200,000+ tons this year, including integrator volumes, having achieved 183,000 tons in 2021. This reflects an increase of 36% compared to 2020. Current data shows that BUD’s cargo throughput in 2022 is +47% against the comparable (pre-Covid) year 2019.
Next on the agenda are ambitious plans to decarbonize all processes and become a net zero CO2 emission airport by 2035. A geothermal heating system will be installed as part of its Green Airport Program. Further to this, increasing the number of e-vehicles is on the management’s radar. The airport has today achieved Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACI) Level 3+, and intends to step it up to Level 4+ by the end of 2023. “All of this is a big challenge, but BUD is very determined to fully implement our environmental roadmap,” cargo helmsman, Jozsef Kossuth, confirms.
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