BRU hopes it is in the final sprint to resolve noise issue

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Noise restrictions for freighter services have had an impact on cargo at Brussels Airport this year, but the Belgian gateway is hopeful it is working towards a solution with the Belgian Federal Government.

In February, Chinese carrier Yangtze River Express left, while in May Air Cargo Global announced that it was abandoning services from the Belgian gateway, which had impacted  freighter operations and tonnage levels and raised concerns that more would follow the route out of Brussels.

Brussels Airport head of cargo, Steven Polmans (pictured below) explains: “Belgium is known for its surrealism art, the noise issue is as surreal for the last 15 years.

“One regional government imposing different rules than the Federal Government, resulting in conflicting situations. And this has already been for many years.

“Result is an unclear situation for our customers and what liability to be expected in future. Not the amount itself, but especially this uncertainty is the biggest obstacle we face.

Brussels Airport Company head of cargo, Steven Polmans

“Current situation is that the governments are discussing in order to find a solution, but rather than doing so in silence, they rather have the fight on the street creating further unnecessary turmoil. The fact is also that the issue becomes bigger a problem due to this perception than it really is.

“DHL is further investing in Brussels and growing and the main problem for cargo is focused on the Boeing 747-400 Freighter. All other types can operate normally.

“We are doing everything we can, from lobbying to court cases in order to get this solved as soon as possible. We do hope that we are in the final sprint towards a solution.”

Brussels has been growing strongly over the last few years, and concerns were raised last month whether noise restrictions were going to hinder further growth and expansion.

However, despite this, traffic at Brussels continued to grow in May as it was up 8.5 per cent on 2016 as the gateway handled 43,836 tonnes compared to the 40,396 tonnes in the same month last year.

In the first five months of 2017, freight is up 18.8 per cent to 225,941 tonnes, compared to the 190,265 tonnes in 2016.

Polmans says while the airport prefers obviously not to lose any customers, the effect for the moment however, is limited.

“Our double-digit growth figures we are seeing for the moment confirm this. But again, if it was up to us, we would keep all customers and we want all types of modern aircraft to be able to operate at Brussels without any restrictions,” he explains.

Polmans adds: “We also expect growth to continue in the near future, based on some new routes and flights we are forecasting, overall economic growth and growth in both belly cargo and integrator.”

On a positive note, Polmans says Magma Aviation, which had signalled its intention to quit the gateway in May, has decided that despite the uncertainty, they still “prefer the benefits of their operation at Brussels and will remain at Brussels for the time being”.

Aside from noise and tonnage figures, the airport’s Air Cargo Belgium organisation goes from strength to strength and is growing in stature at Brussels and in Belgium.

Polmans, who is the chairman, explains: “Air Cargo Belgium has signed an agreement with both ACMAB (cargo airline association) and BAFI (forwarder association), incorporating their members.

“This resulted in over 150 members for the moment, truly making the Air Cargo Belgium organisation and representation at Brussels Airport.

“Since the Port of Antwerp has selected the same cloud-based data sharing platform as our BRUcloud for their future needs, we started closer collaboration with NxtPort.

“And also with customs we are signing a memorandum of understanding later this week to strengthen collaboration between the air cargo community and customs in order to facilitate trade and collaboration.”

Another major emphasis has been the focus on pharmaceuticals through Pharma.Aero and Brussels is firmly placed as one of the globe’s main pharma gateways.

The gateway also developed its ‘Airside Pharma Transporter’ a cool dolly for moving pharma on the tarmac. Polmans says the airport has seen strong demand for the transporter. “The cool dolly is a huge success and we are going to more than triple our orders,” he notes.

Brussels has been at the forefront of air cargo developments including setting up the Pharma.Aero organisation along with Miami International Airport last year and it is a sure bet that it will remain there.

“I don’t think ‘just carrying on’ is part of our vocabulary and nature. We are doing a tender, which means we will have a new company becoming available on the handling side.

“And we are expanding our cargo facilities with 60,000 square metres where the work should start this year for both forwarding and handling activities,” Polmans says.

Noise resrictions or not, Brussels is certainly not staying still and it looks set to continue the growth path it has been on.