From 500,000 down to 440,000? So far, the last word has not yet been spoken on the reduction of annual aircraft movements at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Yet even now, ahead of the intended entry into force of a new slot rule, whose exact date is still open, the political and economic wrangling over the number of flights permitted in the future is in full swing. The final outcome is still a million-dollar question.
The starting conditions for Joost van Doesburg, the new Head of Cargo at Royal Schiphol Group who took office on 06MAR23, could truly have been easier. In the past, cargo throughput at the Netherlands' most important aviation hub was always on the up. But Dutch policymakers have decided to change the traffic regime by scaling down the annual traffic movements from currently 500,000 to 440,000, or at best 460,000, including 14,000 dedicated cargo slots. See: https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2023/01/08/exclusive-netherlands-vs-eu-in-ams-cargo-slot-issue/
Besides mounting opposition from lobby organizations such as Air Cargo Netherlands or single airlines, another obstacle torpedoing a fast slot decision has been set up by Brussels. Whatever traffic solution the Dutch government might suggest, it has to be in line with overarching European slot regulations. In this respect, the wrangling over aircraft movements is like a game of ping-pong, with four players circling the tennis table. These are AMS Airport, the Dutch government, passenger and cargo airlines backed by their organizations, and the EU's air traffic watchdogs in Brussels.
Putting value cargo up front
And right in the middle of this continuous back and forth, is Joost van Doesburg, who represents the concerns of the local air freight community. He leaves no doubt that the slot issue is of high importance but underscores that air freight must shelve its focus on quantity and put quality on top of the agenda instead. “Our aim is to increase the added value of air freight in order to lift Schiphol's cargo product to the next level,” the executive declares. It is a different, new focus that puts the squabbling over the actual number of annual flight movements on the backburner.
The new quality offensive that Mr. van Doesburg is talking about, is essentially based on two pillars. First, Schiphol’s spotlight will be on high value air freight such as pharmaceuticals or hi-tech products. It is therefore a change from mass to class, he advocates. In parallel with the declining volumes of standard freight, the slot issue becomes less dramatic.
Concentration on one site
Mr. van Doesburg’s strategic approach also implies that all cargo facilities are to move to one area on airport, which will put an end to their split between different locations. The concentration of facilities is also driven by AMS and handling agent, dnata, that are jointly building a €200 million fully automated cargo terminal adjacent to one of the runways.
Both of these pillars require considerable investments in, for example, ground facilities, equipment, IT, infrastructure, and the qualification of employees, the manager indicates.
Cargonaut will be further upgraded
In this context, he mentions the air freight community platform, Cargonaut, announcing that further investments will be here. Although owned by the airport, it acts as a neutral agent that runs its own cloud-based data center, connecting forwarding agents, airlines, ground handlers, trucking companies, and customs authorities, enabling them to share data in a controlled and protected environment.
Cargo airlines will also have to adapt to Schiphol’s new cargo quality philosophy, and van Doesburg very strongly recommends that they operate new, low-emission and quiet freighters when serving AMS. This would also meet the criteria set by the Dutch government for future takeoffs and landings at Schiphol Airport. In addition, the manager makes it clear that 2.5% of all aircraft movements must be blocked for cargo operators. “This secures a minimum level of freighter aircraft, serving Schiphol,” because air cargo “is vital for the airport; it was so in the past, is so at present, and will remain so in the future.”
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