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Schiphol needs to “reinvent” itself – and then tell the world it has done so, according to new cargo boss Joost van Doesburg.

Back in the day, Schiphol was always proud – in Europe, anyway – of its ability to grow, geographically speaking. But the limit on slots, particularly for freighters, stopped that in its tracks.

Covid then wrought havoc on airports the world over, as staff numbers fell.

“Last year Schiphol was very chaotic,” Mr van Doesburg told The Loadstar at Transport Logistic in Munich last week. “We needed to come up with a new plan.

“It used to be that we had lots of space, and we drove the airport on volumes – the more volumes the better. But now we have no slots left.

“There are several options on slots, including a plan to ensure 2.5% are reserved for freighters, but that doesn’t really matter; we can’t steer the airport base on volumes any more. It has to be on quality.”

Cargo remains critically important to the airport, he added.

“About 25% of the benefits of Schiphol are cargo-related. I want to increase that – but with less cargo. Volumes don’t bring much added value. So what type of cargo will have the biggest impact? That’s what we need to steer the airport with.

“To become more attractive, we need to start to focus on quality. We want to be the best, not the biggest.”

There is a multi-pronged approach to that – but getting the ‘right’ cargo, such as pharma, hi-tech and valuables, is key. Flowers, a mainstay of Dutch business, don’t quite fit the bill.

“Flowers need a lot of volume. And, in fact, Liege has the biggest flower market. We will try to accommodate them as best we can though.”

The airport plans to develop a hi-tech-cargo campus, as dnata is moving its facility, freeing up some space. The plan is to ease congestion.

“There is still congestion every Friday afternoon. Forwarders pick up cargo at about 3pm, and that creates a traffic jam. So we are developing a ‘smart gate’ to Cargo City, so everyone knows what goods are arriving. Truck movements are predictable, and Customs clears the gods before they arrive. We can then spread it out. Trucks can only arrive if they have a slot booked, otherwise they wait in the car park.

“There will need to be investment in road feeder services and we will work with other airports to ensure the best services and network. Shippers will need to find solutions via road, air and sea. A full freighter is better than half a freighter.”

It’s not only other hub airports that Schiphol is hoping will take up the slack, the group has pledged to buy 40% of Maastricht, a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, where the runway has just been improved.

“We will work together in a beneficial way. We need to figure out how we can connect. But Maastricht gives us the possibility for more freighters.”


Joost van Doesburg

Technology solutions will also be key to the new strategy, which includes greater security for high-value cargo. Schiphol is “heavily investing” in refurbishing Cargonaut, the technology platform that it fully acquired in 2020. Other IT platforms, from the likes of Kale or Champ, can easily connect to it, he said, it’s neutral, unlike the commercial options chosen by some EU hubs.

“Over the next 10 or 11 months it will be refurbished to make it top notch,” said Mr van Doesburg.

It appears that Mr van Doesburg, who as a union leader was a thorn in the side of the airport until they decided to work together last year, will make his mark on Schiphol a second time.

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