… states Jos Roeven, CEO of Maastricht-Aachen Airport (MST). His main point: Secondary airports that offer state-of-the-art services are on their way up, while congested and slot-restricted main hubs have passed their zenith. His recipe for the expected shift of traffic: Make MST attractive for freight carriers by upgrading its ground infrastructure and offering first-class product quality to customers.
Heavy machines are still rolling along the runway in Maastricht, covering one square meter after the other with a layer of asphalt. According to the reconstruction plan, this will go on until 30JUN23. Then the redevelopment of the runway should be completed as specified in the reconstruction plan. The project also includes the runway’s enlargement from currently 2,500 meters to 2,750 meters, come 2025. By then, freighters of all sizes will be able to depart from MST without any payload restriction.
CFG: Jos, 250 meters doesn't sound like a big deal. But you speak of a ‘new operational quality’ enabled by the runway enlargement. Why?
JR: “The main benefit for our airport is that airlines can operate a larger range with full load allowed by an extended runway - that terminates most payload penalties. This accounts particularly for long-haul routes to destinations in North America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, only carriers flying to the Middle East don’t face any payload limitations. That said, the extension of the runway allows us to attract new customers. Conversely, for any incoming traffic, the runway would not need to be extended because 2,500 meters suffice for a safe landing of freighter aircraft even when fully loaded with goods.”
CFG: The upgraded runway will be inaugurated on 30JUN23. What’s the program for that day? Any celebrations, shows, special event on MST’s agenda?
JR: “We have scheduled a few highlights for that weekend, starting with the formal opening on Friday, with two 100% electric aircraft as the first planes to land on our renovated runway. All customers, airport users, and stakeholders are invited to attend. In addition, there will be a separate event for our staff and members of the project team. And finally, there will be a BBQ organized for our neighbors.”
Investments in infrastructure generate new revenues
The entire renovation and expansion project will cost around €100 million, of which €35 million are channeled into the extension of the runway.
A lot of money. However, Mr. Roeven is convinced that it is a good investment and should pay off. For two key reasons: Thanks to the range expansion new carriers will be attracted. And secondly, there will be a redistribution of air traffic, with secondary airports such as MST benefitting from this scheme. His point: Big and congested gateways tend to stagnate or are even losing customers following a stiffer slot regime demanded by residents and put into force by policymakers. In a recent discussion with CargoForwarder Global, Laurent Jossart, CEO of Liège Airport, referred to this trend as the “Amsterdamization” of large hubs (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2023/05/14/lgg-from-mistress-to-bride/)
Ideal time for renovation
At MST, 125,000 tons were handled in 2022. This year, the volumes will go south caused by the 8-week-long closure of its runway, Mr. Roeven states.
The executive points out that there could hardly have been a better time to renovate the infrastructure. “Volumes are going down worldwide, so we picked the right phase to update the infrastructure. If cargo markets were thriving, a closure of our airport for the period of two months would have been much more difficult to endure.”
Employees' identification with their company is a high asset
Finally, he stresses his belief in the European principle of social partnership. While in the U.S., companies fire staff when there is a temporary lack of need for labor, MST management has kept all employees on board despite the traffic standstill for a couple of months.
“Our main asset are our people. We could have laid off some employees because of the unfavorable external circumstances, but we decided against doing so. The people pay it back with appreciation and high identification with the airport and their jobs, and by performing well every day,” explains Jos Roeven. In doing so, he outs himself as opponent of the hire-and-fire philosophy of the Chicago school of neo-liberalism and its leading proponent, Milton Friedman.
MST joins SCP Group
Last Thursday (08JUN23), the Dutch Schiphol Group purchased a 40% stake in Maastricht Aachen Airport, becoming its second largest shareholder alongside the Province of Limburg. This was preceded by an agreement signed on 08JUN22, in which Schiphol Group committed to invest €4.2 million in MST to secure a strategic partnership and spur the further sustainable development of the airport.
"Maastricht Aachen Airport is the second largest cargo airport in the Netherlands and makes a significant economic contribution to the country," emphasized Joost van Doesburg, Head of Cargo at the Schiphol Airport Group, upon the signing of the contract.
The executive went on to say: "Both Schiphol and MST recognize the importance of cargo, valuable freighter slots, and good connectivity with the rest of the world. This collaboration will add value for our cargo partners at both airports, as we strive towards innovation, efficiency, and sustainability."
Jos Roeven, Cargo helmsman of MST, spoke of a win-win deal: "Partnering with Schiphol will boost market confidence, and the benefits will be passed on to our cargo customers through our improved speed and capacity."
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