Attract industry and trade, build a suitable airport infrastructure, and convince airlines to serve the region: That is the formula of success agreed upon between policymakers and a multitude of players, including the airport, placing Budapest Airport (BUD) firmly on the international map.
Figures don’t lie. Budapest doubled its cargo tons from 2012 to 2022, reaching an annual throughput of 194,000 tons. So, in view of this constant growth, it is no surprise that BUD’s high-ranking managers term their airport as the “Cargo Gateway of Central and Eastern Europe”, when describing its transformation from regional to global importance.
Besides the annual traffic figures and the number of cargo flights or freight carriers serving BUD, there are also cargo stories that are seldom told. Such as budget carrier, Wizz Air, that is widely known for low passenger fares and a tightly knit network: the carrier’s involvement in cargo appears to be a hidden secret. Since mid-2020, Wizz has been operating an A330-200 freighter provided by the Hungarian government. It was purchased from Qatar Airways during the COVID-19 pandemic, to secure the transport of hygiene materials aimed at preventing the Sars-Co2 virus from further spreading, but also to provide air freight capacities for commercial (non-governmental) business projects in the country. Now that the pandemic is over, Wizz Air still operates the Airbus freighter, but utilizes it to fly e-commerce shipments and general cargo four times a week on the Hangzhou (HGH) - Budapest – Hangzhou route, thus connecting BUD to one of the busiest cargo hot spots in China.
Volumes developed rapidly in 20-22, Q1/2023 tonnage is 38% above Q1/2019
E-commerce represents a significant part of all goods handled at BUD, and the volumes are increasing. Last year, a total volume of 194,000 tons was processed, including millions of e-commerce shipments per month. This attracted additional e-commerce logistics service providers such as Alibaba/Cainiao, that started using the airport as gateway to Europe. The new BUD Cargo City, the service-minded and fully digitalized customs authorities responsible for checking the documentation and consignments transported on the main decks of freighters (currently 60/week), plus the growing belly business are all growth drivers. Precondition for this positive cargo landscape is the commitment of BUD’s management which has put freight in the driver’s seat.
The growing importance of BUD as cargo hub, particularly for Chinese carriers, was demonstrated at the air cargo Europe trade fair in Munich, where several new projects were initiated and concepts for closer cooperation with existing and new partners discussed. In addition, members of a high-ranking Chinese aviation delegation met their Hungarian counterparts to discuss ways to expand and deepen existing relations. Among others, attendees were officials of the customs authorities from both sides, airline and airport representatives, representatives of logistics companies, and members of the two national Civil Aviation Authorities. This meeting illustrates the growing links between Hungary and China in aviation and other industries as well. Fifteen years ago, seven weekly flights between both countries were permitted. Following the extension of the traffic agreement, meanwhile up to 21 passenger and 21 cargo flights can be operated each week.
Currently, Cargolux (ex HKG), Sichuan Airlines (ex Chengdu), Wizz Air (ex Hangzhou), and Longhao Airlines (ex Zhengzhou), operate full freighter services to BUD. This is complemented by passenger flights conducted by Air China (from Beijing and Chongqing) and Shanghai Airlines (from Shanghai and Ningbo), that offer the market lower deck capacity.
Hungary's industrialization attracts cargo airlines
Besides China-related cargo airlines, BUD’s management has rolled out a red carpet to other cargo carriers, as well, be they from/to Luxembourg (Cargolux), South Korea (Korean Air), Türkiye (Turkish Cargo), Qatar (Qatar Airways Cargo), or - more recently - Ethiopia (HKG-BUD - B777F). This not only benefits the airport but also supports the business of importing and exporting firms, including their forwarding agents, not forgetting integrators such as DHL Express, FedEx, and UPS.
As far as Korean Air Cargo is concerned, the key driver of the weekly INC-BUD cargo flights is the Korean industry and its strong presence in Hungary. Heavyweights such as Samsung, SK Innovation or LG, need permanent air connections between their production sites at home and abroad in Hungary in order to fly components and parts back and forth. “Korea is the second largest investor in Hungary, so we are currently talking with Korean Cargo about increasing the frequencies,” states René Droese, Chief Development Officer of Budapest Airport. This is complemented by plans to arrange close collaboration between Incheon and Budapest Airport. “We are both pushing this intent ahead,” confirms the manager. “The non-binding commitment will be ready by summer. Then, I’ll fly to Seoul to finalize and sign the agreement.”
Besides Korean companies, there are plenty of investments in the e-vehicle industry. In Hungary, some 20 billion EUR are being invested between 2020 and 2025, by the likes of Audi, Daimler, BMW, Suzuki, CATL, BYD, Semcorp, and their suppliers.
Cargo City is expanding
In terms of infrastructure, a Cargo City expansion program is underway, adding 8,800 m² in new buildings, including 6,500 m² storage capacity to the existing cargo terminal which is expected to be operational in Q4, 2023. Part of the expansion program includes two additional Code F freighter stands in front of the new facility (in total, there will be four Code F stands), and a new container depot suited for the ULDs used to safely transport temperature-sensitive cargo. More information will be announced at the upcoming BUD Air Cargo Days, scheduled for 27-28SEP23.
Finally, there is a personnel change in Budapest: Chris Dinsdale, CEO of Budapest Airport, has left the company to become President and CEO of Calgary Airport in Canada. His successor is Kam Jandu, who previously served as the airport's Chief Commercial Officer. He took up his new position on 01MAY23.
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