Liège Airport is getting ready for the high season
Liège Airport was again shortlisted for European Airport of the Year at this year’s PLA Awards after winning the award last year. In a recent interview, Asia payload speaks with Steven Verhasselt, VP Commercial at LGG, as he gives his take on the current market situation, the direction the air cargo industry is taking and how the airport is preparing for another high season.
What are the challenges facing airline hubs given the wave of coronavirus cases seen across the world, and how has Liège adjusted its operations to respond accordingly?
The main challenge is the unexpected and unprecedented shift from a mixed belly / cargo capacity to a cargo-only capacity on the global market. As an airport dedicated to cargo, Liege Airport has been working on this model for many years. Freight volumes at Liège rose from 300,000 tonnes to over 1 million tonnes on cargo freight capacity only.
The evolution of the world market had less of an impact on Liege Airport than the other airports, but we still had to increase our operational capacities, in particular for peak management. At a time when staffing was sometimes an issue due to Covid restrictions, this posed a tall order. We can only thank all the staff of all providers in Liège and its surroundings for their excellent work.
Capacity constraints in container transport have led freight forwarders, logistics providers and shippers to turn to other modes such as air freight. What is your opinion on this? Are you seeing more demand for non-scheduled air freight charters given the congestion at sea?
The market is changing due to ocean freight issues and lack of air freight capacity. Freight forwarders and shippers ensure air freight capacity by setting up their own programs, whether they are regular, seasonal or ad hoc charter programs.
For airports, flexibility is the key to enabling this type of operation. As demand accelerates towards what is shaping up to be a long end-of-year peak, managing demand according to resources, to maintain quality services, has become a task of the Liege Cargo Community. Cooperation is needed between all stakeholders to face the new market situation.
As the main freight hub, is the use of slots imposed by the European Commission for the next winter season likely to affect your operations? What advice would you give to airport operators who wish to develop freight operations?
Liège Airport is not an airport regulated by time slots. There will be no direct impact for us. We hope that from a political point of view it is now clear that freight operations deserve a policy of their own. Bilateral traffic rights don’t really work because air freight only moves one way. Limiting operations to avoid network optimization only increases tariffs, which will be paid by end customers. For niches, flexibility is also needed, as freighters are not as punctual as passenger operations, due to the demands of the supply chain. Airport operators should know this and discuss it with regulators. It is of the utmost importance to be successful in IT infrastructure and human resources of course.
How is the airport preparing for the upcoming peak season and how important is a tight-knit freight community when it comes to a sudden surge in demand?
LGG adds capacity, both in the first row and the second row. On the first line, before the end of the year, the Cainiao E hub will be operational and the second handling facility will be operational.
In the second line, investments for more capacity are coming, and we hope to see the completion of an additional 200,000 square meters by the end of 2022. The seamless connection between the first and the second line, a combination of The physical and digital infrastructure is of the utmost importance, as is the cooperation between all members of the Liege Airport Cargo Community, large and small.
Where do you see air freight heading and what would be the key investments or trends that would help keep the momentum going?
Air freight is currently on a growth path, and we believe this will continue. We of course hope that the world will return to normal soon and the capacity of the belly will return to relieve the pressure on the capacity that we are seeing now.
E-commerce is already a big driver, but we still think it’s just the start. In the more developed e-commerce market, there is greater diversification of e-commerce products, for example e-commerce of perishables and pharmaceuticals. This will lead to even more air freight flow.
Investment in infrastructure, physical and digital, is essential. Attracting talent to our industry is also very important. As the air cargo industry shines like never before, now is the time to bring in young people with new and brilliant ideas to take our industry to the next level.
Can you share with us the recent developments of the planned smart logistics hub with Cainiao / Alibaba?
We cannot officially comment on the Cainiao hub. We are very happy with the progress. Phase 1 is on time and will be up and running very soon, in time for the November peak.