Schiphol remains Europe’s smartest cargo hub


Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is maintaining its position as the smartest cargo hub in Europe through not only smart programmes but also better communication between its own departments.

Speaking to Air Cargo Week at the TIACA Air Cargo Forum in Toronto, the airport’s head of cargo, Bart Pouwels explained that while customers may not look at how Schiphol organises its internal departments, it helps the airport look at where there are opportunities. The passenger side did not always give the cargo sector much thought, and Pouwels says the passenger airlines have considerable capacity that is not being used for cargo.

He said he often co-travelled with colleagues from the passenger side who were unaware at how valuable the belly space could be. Pouwels was introduced to the network planners and decision makers where they discussed the criteria for opening new destinations. It included the number of seats, both economy and business and that was it before handing over to the cargo division.

Pouwels said: “I said why don’t you make cargo one of the criteria whether you can make it profitable or not because the contribution of cargo can be substantial to your business.”

This started about two years ago, and a tool has been developed to show the value of cargo on the route. When they asked about what air cargo could contribute, it was explained that if you have 20 tonnes of capacity at $2.5 a kilo one way then you could double it on the return.

Pouwels asked a consultant to calculate the contribution of belly cargo, who developed a programme showing how the incremental cost of the extra kilos would affect operations. It was found there was a small increase in fuel costs but the extra revenue significantly increased profitability.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol head of cargo, Bart Pouwels

“I then said to them convince me cargo makes a difference. We already knew that when we had the idea but they convinced it to me.”

A university student was later taken on to calculate how much capacity was not being used. It was found almost 50 per cent of capacity was not being used “so there is a huge potential for getting cargo to Schiphol and for exporting more cargo from Schiphol. Given we are capped at 500,000 movements a year until 2020, where can we grow?”

He adds: “The merger of the two departments has been welcome within Schiphol to optimise the belly freight.”

The slot restrictions have resulted in a lot of discussion about freighter movements at Schiphol. IATA slot guidelines are operated on an 80/20 rule, meaning if airlines operate 80 per cent of flights they receive grandfather rights for the next season.

He said: “Freighters never fly from A to B and from B back to A so it’s more difficult for freighters to perform 80 per cent of the operations.”

“When it is congested and there is scarcity then freighters are the first ones to lose their grandfather rights and that’s what we have seen happening, which is a pity but that’s a fact of the world slot guidelines.”

Another area where Schiphol is improving efficiency is the Smart Cargo Mainport Program, which is all about digitalisation and improving operations on the ground, allowing cargo to come in and move on to its next destination.

Citing KLM’s European Green Fast Lanes project, which was piloted in Frankfurt, cargo was trucked to Schiphol for the next flight out rather than possibly for the flight leaving in two or three days time.

Pouwels said: “They worked on this by sharing data about what it is you expect to receive and what was actually sent out. On the one hand it is about educating the customer and on the other, it is about digital information.”

He added: “It’s like a slot system. The truck arrives in Amsterdam where they open the door and they know what’s in there and what flight it’s meant for. Better planning means better results in the operational performance. It was so successful it was implemented in 20 stations across Europe.”

The landside pick up and delivery project has also been a success. Pouwels says that trucks arriving at Schiphol need to go to a handling facility but if they all went to the same door at the same time then there would be congestion and chaos. An app is being developed so truck drivers receive a slot to go to the facility.

He said: “If they are given a slot where they are expected at this time and this handling premises then another driver can go to another facility. It’s all about planning, and planning can only be done when you have accurate data available at all times.”

The app is now tested for truck drivers and is designed to be scaled up to a higher level.

A track and trace tool has also been developed for the flower industry where cargo can be traced on box level from origin, in East Africa for the sake of the program.

Information such as the farmer, the agent who bought it, the airline that transported it, the trucker, the handling company, the freight forwarder and even customs were involved shared information in the cloud.

“Everyone has access to this information so there is no more hidden transparency. Everybody at the same time has access to this information. We have created a platform where they share their information and upload their information. There is no overwriting of information, only adding more information to the system.”

The air cargo industry talks about collaboration and data sharing but does not take action. Pouwels wants to share the examples and Schiphol’s knowledge to the industry.

He tells ACW: “I’m not a genius, I’m just a normal guy. If we all act normally and try to share information that makes life easy but I still see people hesitating to open up and being will to share. It’s like they think if I keep information to myself then I can earn money. I think that is so stupid.”

Pouwels agrees it makes operations inefficient though some partners benefit from this “but in the end it’s short sighted”.

Saying that when he travels, Pouwels can easily find information on subjects including bus timetables but in the cargo industry you cannot get access to important information.

“There are so many platforms, everything is there and has been invented but it is not being used or not connected because people are reluctant or people are afraid to be open because I might be able to say you did not deliver as promised,” he says.

He urges the cargo industry to be open, saying: “I expect full transparency, it is the only way forward.”

As for the future of Schiphol, Pouwels says there have been a lot of discussions about the airport and the entire population of the Netherlands has opinion about Schiphol and whether it should be allowed to grow.

He says: “The difficulty is our CEO needs to sit around the table with all the stakeholders and try to get an agreement with everyone. We are not certain how this will end. We expect that we can grow step by step from 500,000 movements to maybe 550,000 if that were the end result but this will be gradual.”

“We will have a moderate growth path. The growth is there for freighters and passenger airlines. I expect it to be a moderate growth path. We have a lot of customers who want to grow in Amsterdam because the potential is there but the problem is we are limited to a certain number of movements.”