Brussels aiming for 500,000t after strong start

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The strong growth seen in the second half of 2016 has continued this year, and Brussels Airport head of cargo, Steven Polmans (pictured below) is confident of hitting the 500,000 tonne mark.

He tells Air Cargo Week’s staff writer, James Muir Cargo volumes grew 1.1 per cent in 2016 to 494,637 tonnes, with freighters posting 6.8 per cent growth though belly volumes were down 12.6 per cent to 126,105 tonnes.

The beginning of the year was affected by the 22 March terrorist attack. Though freighter traffic recovered quickly, belly-hold volumes struggled.

The strong results have continued into 2017 with 14.6 per cent growth in the first two months to 85,648 tonnes, driven by freighters, up 27.9 per cent to 65,177 tonnes but belly-hold cargo was down 13.9 per cent to 20,742 tonnes, partly due to Jet Airways leaving in March 2016.

Polmans comments: “The trends of 2016 continue: full freighters continue to grow strongly, integrator traffic is raising steadily and remains robust while cargo on board passenger aircraft is still below last year’s volumes due to the departure of Jet Airways and the reduced capacity after the attacks.”

Brussels Airport Company head of cargo, Steven Polmans

He says though Brussels Airlines has been doing well, this was not enough to compensate for the loss of capacity.

Polmans is not expecting the double-digit growth to continue but is confident volumes will keep rising above the market average.

He tells Air Cargo Week: “With some projects in the pipeline, we are confident that 2017
will be a very good year for us bringing us back above the 500,000 ton yearly which we did not see since the departure of DHL 10 years ago.”

E-commerce and perishables have been the main drivers of growth, particularly the latter for imports on freighters.

Pharmaceuticals have also been a strong point, and Polmans says: “On the import side we are strengthening our position when it comes to pharmaceuticals. Brussels already handled relatively double the volume compared to the European average, but in 2016 we noticed a 35% growth in flown export volumes of pharmaceuticals!!”

Brussels Airport was the first airport community where stakeholders underwent International Air Transport Association (IATA) Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) certification.

Polmans says: “Not only have we seen an increase in quality infrastructure, procedures are much better and aligned and the different training programs have led to better trained staff with a pharma mind-set. All this
has resulted in a significant decrease in temperature excursions and higher quality of handling.”

Gaining IATA CEIV is just one step, and Polmans says: “Next steps we are taking are the introduction of temperature controlled airside dollies to reduce the biggest risk to which pharmaceuticals are exposed at an airport, to strengthen cooperation between airports with a similar vision and mind-set via pharma.aero and to introduce pharma handling quality dashboards.”

Brussels Airport

Brussels will continue to focus on the cool chain, but two other areas of interest are real estate and a digital platform.

Polmans says Brussels has been focusing on second line buildings in recent years, and this year is focusing on the first line.

He says: “A first project will be finished by end of June with the opening of the new DHL Express building at the cargo side, a second project will start with new handling buildings for both Swissport and WFS as well as for some forwarding companies investing in airside connected buildings.”

The first applications on the digital platform for the cargo community will go live in the
second quarter of this year, and Polmans comments: “This should result in savings and increased efficiencies for all participants and we are very much looking forward to this, especially since the Port of Antwerp last month chose the same system as their new port community system.”

With this growth and expansion plans, Polmans believes Brussels Airport and Belgium has a bright future.

Doing business in Belgium can be interesting, Polmans admits it is “a very complicated country when it comes to politics and the (in)stability our political systems with different regions in such a small countries brings”, and though it works, it can be hard to explain to outsiders.

He admits: “That is a challenge and very often we are our own worst salesman.”

Despite these complexities, Polmans says Belgium’s location; well trained and hard working staff, education system and a government focusing on the economy and creating jobs to make the life of companies easier.

He says: “On the logistics index of the World Bank, Belgium scores very high. So this shows the focus we have as a transit country on logistics.”