2023 challenging for air cargo, say industry leaders – but what's next?
Air cargo industry leaders are agreed that 2023 has been challenging and created uncertainty – ...
Covid has decimated the air travel industry: jobs have been lost at airports the world over; airlines are hanging on via state support, or simply shrinking; even cargo, the only part of aviation working properly has seen job losses, as passenger-focused organisations firmly zip up their wallets, fearful of any spending.
But that’s not the plan for Brussels Airport (BRU), which must be looking at recent decisions by others, including major Dutch neighbour Schiphol, with some bewilderment.
Steven Polmans, who arguably put BRU on the map on cargo terms, may have left – but the airport is not using that as an excuse to downsize. Not only has it appointed a new cargo chief, but it is allowing him to add to his team.
“Our strategy for growth is supported by the airport,” Geert Aerts, the new head of cargo, told The Loadstar. “We will further develop the BRU Cargo Zone.”
Piet Demunter, chief business development officer, agreed: “Cargo and logistics is a key pillar for the airport and will become more important. The airport has built a strong cargo team and we will keep that – and find additional members.
“This is too important to be managed by people who are not focused. And there is more investment to come.”
Mr Aerts arrived having held senior positions at aviation training company CAE – often at Brussels Airport. “Passionate” about aviation, he has also long-admired the airport and the place it holds as an economic actor in Belgium.
But, while he is familiar with the hub, in his first two weeks on the job he has been inspired by the close-knit cargo community.
“It is very appealing,” he said. “We are working with a great community. And it’s been good to talk and get to know customers and stakeholders.
“I’ve always kept a close eye on BRU, and seen its strengths. But I wasn’t expecting community to be so strongly embedded in its DNA. The teamwork is really very striking.”
As is the growth potential, he added.
“There is the possibility for growth in technology and innovation; we can make processes more efficient. Steven [Polmans] introduced me to a lot of the strategic choices, which was very helpful and inspiring.”
Alongside building relationships in the community, boosting the BRU Cloud – the air cargo community platform – is essential. In fact, the innovative technology at the airport could be one reason it seems to have faced fewer problems with congestion than some European rivals, several of which have seen serious delays in recent months.
And despite attracting new airlines and flights – many of which are the cumbersome-to-handle passenger-freighters, often carrying vaccines – BRU, its handlers, forwarders and airlines seem to have side-stepped some of the worst of the chaos.
But more needs to be done to ensure the stakeholders join in with new initiatives. One of Mr Aerts’ first jobs will be to sign up companies to the airport’s Digital Green Lane, which will replace paper processes. The data is used to make predictive analyses, cutting waste and waiting times.
“It’s a very well-thought through concept. Everyone sees the common goals and objectives, and it requires teamwork to get us there.”
Mr Demunter added that it could be easier to get the smaller companies to join the various applications on the BRU Cloud, as they tended to have more autonomy.
“For bigger companies, it can be a choice made by HQ, which can take a bit longer. But you show the advantages locally and that can strengthen the effort.”
The team is looking for 70% participation in the initiative by the end of the year, added Mr Aerts.
“We need early adopters. The system will speak for itself, and create value for all of the players. And our architecture can easily connect to other digital ecosystems.”
One of Mr Polmans’ achievements was boosting industry participation, and sharing best practices even with rivals. Will that sentiment continue?
“As an industry we all benefit from improving. All airports have their own strengths, so we can share best practice, but that has to work for each one itself.
“I do want to be a part of that leadership. And be at the forefront of innovation. The strategic choices that have been made at BRU are valid – but I am not a carbon copy of Steven. I’ll be part of the change, part of the opportunity to build back better. And I am looking forward to making our future more future-proof.”
But perhaps the only important question for many in the industry is: will BRU still take its ‘travelling Belgium bar’ to global events, a kind of ‘Cheers’, where everyone knows your name?
Thankfully, both Mr Aerts and Mr Demunter speak as one, with a resounding “yes”.
As that’s one change the industry wouldn’t have wanted to see.