Brussels Airport recovering following terrorist attacks

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Brussels Airport is on the rise following a difficult start to 2016, when airlines moved and it was hit by terrorist attacks, head of cargo Steven Polmans (pictured below) explains to Air Cargo Week staff writer, James Muir.

He says Brussels had a negative start to the year with the loss of Ethiopian Airlines Cargo due to traffic right issues at the end of 2015, and Jet Airways moving to Amsterdam, then it was hit by the terrorist attacks in March.

Polmans says: “Although cargo recovered rather quickly, the reduction in capacity had its effects on the total volumes we saw in the first six months at our airport.”

The airport serving the Belgian capital has been recovering since August, with the return of Ethiopian Cargo and Qatar Airways Cargo expanding services.

In October total cargo volumes rose 6.5 per cent to 46,603 tonnes, with full freighters registering a 28.8 per cent surge to 17,119 tonnes. Integrator traffic was down 2.4 per cent to 17,878 tonnes and belly cargo by 4.5 per cent to 11,606 tonnes.

Year-to-date volumes after 10 months of the year are down 2.3 per cent to 399,554 tonnes, mainly because of the 13.5 per cent fall of belly cargo to 103,307 tonnes.

Brussels Airport Company head of cargo, Steven Polmans
Brussels Airport Company head of cargo, Steven Polmans

Polmans comments: “The increase in full cargo traffic is making up for the reduction we still see in the bellies, but it looks that we will make up the loss of the first half year and see a full year result in line with last year.”

The last months of the year are expected to be strong and Polmans says: “2017 looks to be more promising and I am expecting a full year growth in volumes based on our current forecast and knowledge of route development of our customers, both full cargo and long haul passenger traffic.”

Companies at the airport are looking at expanding; DHL Express is finalising its new terminal.

And freight forwarder Panalpina has started work on doubling its facility with first line handling building will be refurbished in 2017 as well as a 40,000 square metre project for new handling facilities and first line forwarding warehouses.

Polmans adds: “In November we also launched our vision for 2040, where cargo plays an important role and where we give a good idea of how we think the area will look like.”

Pharmaceuticals are a major part of Brussels’ growth, registering double-digit increases, having become International Air Transport Association (IATA) Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (IATA CEIV) certified.

He tells ACW: “Our focus and attention on cool chain, of which IATA CEIV is one aspect, for sure has contributed to that.

“But also our cool dolly, our regular pharma forum with the pharma manufacturers in Belgium have contributed to this growth.”

Brussels Airport was also a founding member of Pharma.Aero, an association aiming to achieve reliable end-to-end air transportation for pharmaceutical shippers.

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Pharma.Aero was founded by Brussels and Miami International Airport, with Changi Airport Group and Sharjah International Airport as strategic members. Brussels Airlines Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo and Brinks Life Sciences have also joined as full members – which was announced at TIACA’s Air Cargo Forum in Paris in October.

As it was launched in October, so Polmans says it is too early to say how effective it has been so far but it is looking promising.

He says: “So we are putting high hopes on the positive effects we will see coming from this new organisation.

“You will hear more on this in the next years but it is good to see that we see an interest from parties to join and that we can announce some new members soon.”

The community has also come together under the Air Cargo Belgium organisation, bringing the airport and all stakeholders together.

Polmans, who is the organisation’s first chairman, tells ACW: “Air Cargo Belgium also has the resources to have staff in place and thus respond better to the needs and requirements of its members. 11 working groups were defined and have been set up: from operational efficiency, customs, e-commerce, pharma to innovation.”

He adds: “It shows we are tackling the issues we are all confronted with today as an industry and at the same time, we also look forward on how we would like our cargo area to look in 10 years from now.”

Brussels is certainly back on track after a tough start to the year from events to a certain extent out of the hub’s control. while it looks set to have a strong finish to 2016 and expand volumes next year and remain one of Europe’s key air cargo gateways.