Little sunshine in the land of the yellow vests

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France has been a troubled country lately, writes Chris Lewis. After a bright enough start, following his election victory, with President Macron’s labour market reforms getting ensnared in the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protests towards the end of last year; economic growth is expected to fall to an unimpressive 1.7% for 2018.

It remains to be seen whether the president can add enough concessions to make his labour reform and public spending agenda palatable to the French voting public who, once again, are going through one of their discontented phases, of which there have been many in the past couple of decades or so.

As well as its domestic woes, France is also beset by external pressures like global trade wars, the continuing uncertainty in many of its major markets in Europe and the possible effect of Brexit on trade with near-neighbour the UK.

Looking on the bright side, though, exports – particularly in high tech sectors such as aerospace – could stage a rebound. This, together with reliable stables such as high end food and drink, could deliver sufficient market growth to rescue the airfreight sector from the doldrums.

A busy American in Paris

Despite the unpromising economic outlook, American Airlines’ cargo team had a record-breaking 2018 including a successful year in France, says regional sales manager for Western Europe, Kathleen Lesage. She says: “Our team worked diligently to ensure our customers benefited from more points of access and greater capacity for shipments to the US and beyond.”

Moreover, says Lesage: “We are very confident as we expect to see increased demand this spring and we are already seeing evidence of that in forward bookings.”

The carrier has new European routes starting this summer and is launching iCargo, part of its Project Payload initiative, which will reduce the number of systems in use from 90 to eight.

Lesage states: “With that investment, we’ll see improved visibility and greater efficiencies for us and our customers.”

The American Airlines seasonal trucking service from the South of France to Barcelona was very successful once again in 2018, she continues: “In fact, customers are now regularly asking if we can offer this option during the winter months. Our service runs from Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille to serve the seasonal flight between Barcelona and Chicago (ORD).

New and enhanced routes from Paris this year include a second daily Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)-Dallas/Fort Worth flight from 7 June with a Boeing 787-8, the daily CDG-New York JFK service will be upgraded from 1 April to a Boeing 777, and the seasonal CDG-Chicago and Charlotte flights will return on the same date.

Pharmaceuticals and aerospace parts are the stand-out commodities moved and there has also been an increase in demand for express products, Lesage says.

The latter is frequently used throughout the year for the launch of new beauty products and museum or exhibition moves.

Airfreight with a Gallic flavour

Air France KLM Martinair Cargo (AFKLMP) is very active in the major regions of the world, such as the Americas, Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa but that is not to forget the more specific French markets.

Vice president France, Jean-Yves Cap says the carrier has a strong presence in the French Islands in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, where they are especially fond of French food, he says.

France is also well-positioned in the global pharma market, as evidenced by the carrier’s recent CEIV recertification of its premises in Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG).

However, the French airfreight market is very open and competitive with plenty of belly and main deck capacity to and from CDG and the regions. That hasn’t however stopped AFKLMP from keeping its six-strong freighter fleet very busy to and from Americas and Africa while it is also growing its belly capacity this year, opening Quito and Dallas and increasing capacity to African destinations.

From its CDG hub AFKLMP operates two B777Fs, together with four B747Fs from Amsterdam Schiphol. Cap says: “This is exactly the right number of aircraft our full freighter market requires. On top of that KLM still operates six Boeing 747 combi aircraft, although these will be gradually phased out over the next two years.”

The passenger fleet consists of a wide variety of the latest generation aircraft like the 787 and 777 which offer “an enormous amount of belly cargo capacity”.

AFKLMP is dedicated in moving the industry into the 21st century digital world. It recently organised a DigiDay (Digital Day) for its customers at CDG, telling them about the latest developments.

Growth at home and away

Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) has grown into the world’s largest air cargo handler – including over one million tonnes in its home country, France, in 2018. There, it increased volumes by 10%, boosted by new contracts from Emirates, CAL Cargo Airlines, Air France and Geodis.

In 2018, WFS opened a dedicated facility at its principal Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) hub to manage strong growth in e-commerce and this summer will also open a new pharma facility there.

It is also investing heavily in new safety and security technology including €3 million recently on new high definition CCTV cameras and access control systems. WFS’ security operations centre in France also manages the stations in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.

WFS France vice president cargo Hugo Rodrigues, comments: “The last two years have seen strong growth in our cargo volumes in Paris and our 12 further airports in France. This is due to a combination of factors; market growth and better optimisation of airline capacity, additional flight frequencies and new handling contracts. With the opening of our new e-commerce facility and investment in a specialist pharma building, we are demonstrating to our customers that we want to support their growth too.”

He adds: “Last year, we handled a wide range of cargoes for our customers, including shipments of aerospace products, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, electronics, beauty products and textiles. Our volumes of perishables also increased. This isn’t just in CDG. In Orly, for example, our volumes were up 6% year-on-year too and our ability to offer customers a network of locations across the French provinces is a key reason why they choose WFS as their partner.”

Rodrigues expects 2019 to see more growth, driven by e-commerce and pharma: “We will remain in close dialogue with our customers to ensure we all benefit from the growth of specific market sectors, and we will continue to work with the airport authorities in France to ensure we have the facilities and capacity we need to attract more airline customers.”