Brussels Airport at the forefront of innovation

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Brussels Airport

ACW spoke to Geert Aerts, Brussels Airport’s new cargo director and Piet Demunter, the Airport’s chief business development officer.

ACW: This past year has been a strong year for cargo at Brussels Airport. What has been the key to success?

Geert Aerts: At Brussels Airport, we have four main pillars. These are pharma, perishables, e-Commerce, and animal care. We are focusing on these aspects and investing our energy in them, whilst building relationships and infrastructure to support them.

The way that we have achieved these things is through a strong focus on digitalisation. We are able to supply businesses and partners with the data they need to become more efficient. Adding to this, we will continue to put a lot of emphasis on doing this sustainably. Sustainable growth, decent work, but also with the future in mind that makes doing business sustainable as a whole.

Geert Aerts

ACW: How does this tie in with the Airport’s role in current vaccine logistics?

Aerts: One of our specialisations is pharma, an investment which has really paid off in the past year. To date, over 30 million vaccines have been imported to and through Brussels Airport.

Piet Demunter: Success in this field is due to our specialisations but also the great relations we have as an airport and community with the shippers, manufacturers and other supply chain players. These relationships have been tremendously important in order to prepare for the logistical challenges. We have been able to work with them and then they have been able to implement some of our measures at other airports.

ACW: Have you encountered anything that you couldn’t prepare for, or challenges you didn’t see coming?

Demunter: Belgium is an important research and development centre for vaccines, so we’ve have a lot of experience in pharmaceuticals. With COVID we didn’t have the exact specifications of what shipments needed but because of the combined experience of our community members we had a bit of a head start. It also helped us as we already had confidence and trust from the manufacturers in the capabilities of Brussels Airport.

Piet Demunter

Aerts: Our strong collaboration as a community and with other airports through Pharma.Aero, of which we are a driving member of, has helped us take a 360 approach to the end-to-end journey from shippers to forwarder, handlers, airlines and the next airport.

ACW: How has this specialisation strategy helped Brussels Airport adapt to the boom in e-Commerce?

Piet Demunter: We have had a lot of e-Commerce shipments, especially from DHL, which has a substantial operation in Brussels. What we need to do is make quick decisions on giving them space or even parking for trucks that are bringing the goods in and out.

We have been able to be flexible and cope with the demands from the different players. There has been pressure on the infrastructure and although we are able to make quick short-term decisions, we are also thinking ahead with what to do in the long term. Certainly for DHL and other members in the community, we need to extend our infrastructure and build more warehouses and provide additional space airside for their equipment.

In terms of importance, pharma has been what people have been focussing on but in terms of volume it has been e-Commerce that has been booming.

ACW: Speaking of infrastructure, you recently inaugurated Brucargo West. Can you tell me a bit about this?

Aerts: Brucargo West is an energy-efficient and fit for purpose facility for our handlers, forwarders and partners. We inaugurated the building there for WFS, Kuehne+Nagel and Expeditors. Here we have been able to establish strong infrastructure with a footprint for an efficient lane for cold chain.

ACW: What sort of time scale is there on infrastructure growth?

Demunter: We can cater some of the short-term demands with spaces that have been freed up by existing players because they’ve moved in to new infrastructure, which we’ve built.

The development is on going, and this is apart from the redevelopments. A lot is going on! At this moment we can say we’re really looking for every free square metre of warehouse to cater to demand. It is more than likely we will deliver a new 5000 sq m warehouse by the end of next year and the year after an 18,000 sq m one and the year after we’re talking about a 35,000 sq m one.

Brucargo West

ACW: There is certainly lot going on at the moment. How is the drive to digitalise processes tying in to all this?

Aerts: This is something we want to facilitate but it’s coming from the community and from Air Cargo Belgium as well. As an airport, we have been very much investing in the Bru Cloud application and the eco system that has been built around that.

What we are now focussing on in the shorter term is taking a focus on landside management process and to run these fully digitally by next year. That’s something that is multidisciplinary across various partners within that community. To fully deploy these applications and support running these process more efficiently and paperless, we need to provide the insights needed from all players for the end-to-end process.

Demunter: We’ve taken a lead in developing the data-sharing platform to promote openness in the community. A lot of good work has been done and now we are seeing how we can develop this further, giving more data and more insights back to the Air Cargo Belgium community to track patterns and learn how to improve efficiency.

When we talk about air cargo it’s all about speed and efficiency in taking the goods to the end destination and if we can even speed up a few minutes for every shipment, that’s a huge increase in productivity for the sector.

Aerts: It’s definitely our role, and certainly my ambition in this new role, to remain at a forefront of innovation and to take that next step with what you can do with data and future technologies that are out there.

ACW: Geert, how has it been starting the new position?

Aerts: It’s ben a blast. I’ve had the pleasure to meet the team, albeit mostly virtually. This has been a challenge, as I’d love to be out there meeting the customers and partners face-to-face as soon as possible.

I had the pleasure to inaugurate two of the new buildings and I have also been able to see new pax freighters starting from Brussels Airport again, so it has been a very good and broad experience already. I see an exciting future ahead of us!