Liège Airport (LGG) intends to add 36,000 m² of warehouse space first line in the northern section of the site. This includes constructing 15 stands for widebody aircraft, as well as the intention to develop a two bay widebody MRO facility. These specifics are part of an updated Masterplan version presented by LGG’s management exclusively to CargoForwarder Global last Tuesday (05SEP23). Its final layout, although already okayed by the executive level, still needs final approval by the Board. This is expected to happen before the end of OCT23.
If the plan is consented, which presumably nobody in Liège doubts, the airport will eventually be able to handle up to 2.3 million tons of air freight per year. That is twice the amount processed in 2022. Preliminary work has already begun; diggers are leveling the uneven ground and first roads cross the site.
When putting the revised masterplan under the microscope, 15 additional parking spaces for widebody cargo aircraft for loading and unloading shipments catch the eye. They will be built in the first handling line along with three new warehouses offering a capacity of 12,000 m² each. These facilities will be erected in the rear section of the newly developed area. The planning agenda includes various office buildings and second line warehouses to accommodate freight forwarders. In the course of the masterplan implementation, LGG's Northern Area will be connected to the transnational rail network.
It is a little-known fact that freight trains arriving from the Far East, already stop near the airport today, loaded primarily with consumer goods, various industrial products, and e-commerce. In future, however, once the rail link is established, they will be able to stop right next to the terminal buildings on LGG’s North side. Then, Liège will become a multimodal airport, offering combined air, road, and rail services.
“Following the expected Board approval, we will go into more in-depth planning for the revised masterplan. This includes launching tenders and inviting potential investors to equip the new facilities with the technology needed. The newly built warehouses can only be rented, not purchased”, declares Laurent Jossart, CEO of Liège Airport. “Practically, we will go step by step, sometimes maybe faster, at other times a bit slower. It all depends on external market factors,” outlines Torsten Wefers, LGG’s VP Sales & Marketing. He adds to this that forecasting developments precisely until 2040, is extremely challenging because macro-economic and political factors might quickly change, impacting the cargo business one way or another.
Investing countercyclically is smart, management maintains
He stresses that the basic decision to update the masterplan, was made prior to the enormous upswing of air freight during the pandemic. Now that global volumes are again declining, Liège will not back away from the original plans. “We will be well prepared in terms of infrastructure for a renewed upswing in the second half of this decade,” the executive emphasizes. “Investing countercyclically has rarely been a bad idea,” he adds.
Two developments in particular, make him feel optimistic. After the complete loss of the Russian freight carrier, AirBridge Cargo, as a result of Western sanctions against Russian airlines, following the invasion of Ukraine, more and more new customers have knocked and keep knocking on LGG's door. LATAM Cargo, for example, started operating a new MIA-LGG-JFK/MIA rotation twice a week from mid-AUG23, deploying B767-300F. Turkish cargo carrier, MNG, offers the market two weekly A330F flights linking IST with JFK via LGG. Georgian Airways is a new customer, operating a weekly TBS-LGG-TBS-EVN service with their new B767-300 freighter. Similarly, Georgia's Camex Airlines operates a B737-800P2F on the TBS-LGG-TBS route. A big new name in Liège, is Azeri carrier, SilkWay West Airlines. It links the Far East via Baku, six times per week, deploying B747 jumbo freighters. The flights are operated on behalf of a major European forwarding agent, who purchased the entire capacity of the aircraft.
Finally, three more operational news items are announced by the LGG managers: Icelandair has recently started operating its B767F from the USA (JFK, ORD and LAX) via Reykjavik to Liège, leading to the doubling of its flights from formerly daily to double-daily. And existing Chinese customer, SF Airlines, has increased its B747-400 freighter services from 3/7 to 7/7. Then there is also another new customer: MSC Air Cargo has increased its air services from 3/7 to 5/7. This follows the delivery of a second B777F to the air freight subsidiary of the Swiss shipping company, MSC, which took place a couple of days ago.
Last, but not least, FedEx just announced big news for LGG. FedEx will make Liège airport its intercontinental air cargo hub for Europe, where palletized shipments and shipments over 68 kg will be processed. Based on Liège’s strategic location, the new airfreight hub will be linked with two of FedEx's largest road hubs: Arnhem and Venlo, connecting intercontinental freight volumes directly to FedEx's extensive European road network.
As part of this development, FedEx will begin operating a new 4/7 LGG-Indianapolis 777F service and introduce additional daytime sorting windows in Liège. This will be the second transatlantic flight operated in Liège, in addition to the current Liège-Memphis route.
Benefitting from the “Amsterdamization” trend?
More traffic is likely to follow, since European airports are increasingly being grilled by political decision makers and state authorities. A trend that CEO, Laurent Jossart, terms “Amsterdamization”. The restrictions include stricter noise reduction measurements, upping greenhouse gas emission costs, or direct operational interventions as now exemplified by the Dutch government which intends to reduce Schiphol Airport’s slots by 40,000, from 500,000 to 460,000 per year. Costly requirements to lower CO2 emissions or simply operational interventions by cutting slots are now planned for Schiphol in the Netherlands.
Cargo carriers come under pressure - not just in AMS
It is foreseeable that the main losers of this specific legal action will be a number of the cargo carriers currently serving Schiphol. After all, at the end of the day, it is a pecuniary issue: Passenger traffic is more lucrative for airports because of the retail business it implies. Thus, this contributes to the airport’s revenues much more than the throughput of containers or pallets. A first indication that cargo carriers should fasten their seatbelts was recently given by Schiphol’s management, which announced that AMS wants to concentrate on product quality, not quantity. Airlines flying flowers or perishables from Latin America or Africa to Amsterdam, are likely to have understood this message. “Liège Airport is focusing its development mostly on air freight. These airlines are more than welcome to join us, because we are happy to offer our customers both: product quality and quantity.” This is LGG cargo chief, Wefers' enticing call to those cargo airlines that are considering or even forced to pack their bags in Amsterdam.
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