Cargo traffic has grown steadily at Liège Airport (LGG) over the last couple of years, and the upward trend continues unabated. Royal Jordanian Cargo recently began serving the airport, so did Air Canada Cargo and MSC Air Cargo, to name just three newcomers. They decided in favor of Liège, following a demanding tender process with the Belgian hub winning the contests.
That said, it comes as no surprise to hear CEO, Laurent Jossart proudly state that “measured by the outcome of tenders, airlines seem to consider us as being a top European location for cargo
throughput.” A trend much welcomed by the management, and which led to the constant enlargement of the air network into and out of Liège, with destinations such as Amman, Toronto, Seoul, or
Halifax as recent new additions to its global map. And more are to come since “we are no longer a mistress, but a much-desired bride.”
Much light, little shadow
Established routes complement the market reach provided by Ethiopian Cargo, National Airlines, Saudia, Qatar Airways Cargo, Challenge Airlines, Cainiao, ASL Airlines, Icelandair Cargo and others.
Yet where there is light, there is also shadow. At least that was the case some time ago. A major weak spot at Liège was the handling quality offered to customers. This is frankly admitted by Mr. Jossart: “It was often below our expectations in the recent past, but has significantly improved lately,” he states. This is thanks to targeted infrastructure investments coupled with operational adjustments. “Now we are back on track and able to offer our clients a service level they deserve!”
Foresighted infrastructure policy
In total, Liège Airport has built 110,000 m² of first line warehouse space, 84,000 m2 in the north area, and 26,000 m2 on the south side of the airport. Additionally, the airport is currently developing, with its local partner Weerts Group, a total of 255,000 m² second line warehouse space for the further development of its forwarder footprint. The new logistic parc inside the LGG bonded customs area is called “Cargo City West”.
These figures exclude the space blocked by FedEx for its own sorting, distribution, and handling services. Although, the U.S. integrator relocated around 60% of its flight activities to Charles de Gaulle Airport, it still connects the Belgian airport with the Far East, its Memphis hub, and Dubai. Mr. Jossart reminds that, in 2016, when FedEx acquired TNT, the package delivery company accounted for almost 50% of cargo volumes moved through Liège. Today it is a mere 12%.
Internal web portal
This figure proves very clearly that today's multi-carrier concept is the reason for the successful increase in tonnage. “We are no longer standing on one leg, but on a multitude of legs,” illustrates VP of Cargo, Torsten Wefers. This makes Liège less susceptible to crises, in contrast to those airports that depend heavily on a big and influential home carrier.
As a next step, the management wants to set up a formalized cargo community as an additional driving force, following the examples of Frankfurt and Brussels. In this context, a centralized community web portal will be introduced, which will act as a single point of access for different applications, tools, and services. It is aimed at providing seamless, efficient, and secure cargo operations. It will improve productivity, offer high visibility, and minimize errors, thus benefitting all members of the future cargo community, emphasize Jossart and Wefers, unanimously. This is complemented by a GMTMS abbreviated application that will go live in JUN23, digitalizing the tracking of goods and harmonizing procedures between all stakeholders through direct data exchange.
Further to this, the airport intends to install a 5G private network by the end of 2023, to provide secure, high-speed connectivity, support advanced technologies such as IoT, AI, and ML, and offer state-of-the-art security features.
Come JUN23, a number of items will be added to the masterplan, such as the construction of several new parking stands for aircraft and additional first line warehouse space. Today, airlines are offered 90 stands, but the management is looking to the future. “With our targeted infrastructure policy, we intend to be ahead of growth,” Laurent Jossart outlines the airport’s pull strategy.
Amsterdamization of airports within the EU
According to the airport management, a fundamental change is currently taking place in the European airport landscape. There is a noticeable increase in the influence of regulators and/or the EU, increasing the pressure on the operators. The example of Amsterdam shows the direction in which this train is heading. There, a reduction in slots from 500,000 per year to only 440,000 or alternatively 460,000, is being discussed. Laurent Jossart calls this development the Amsterdamization of the European airport landscape.
According to Cargo Chief, Wefers, Liège does not look at other airports to compare its performance. For instance, at Liège, airlines can choose between five different ground handling agents, which affects handling charges very positively.
However, Liège’s by far biggest assets are sufficient free slots coupled with an operational permit valid 24/07/365. “We regard both factors as growth drivers,” summarizes Mr. Wefers.
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