Schiphol: Targeting growth in a constrained environment

20 / 06 / 2018

Satisfying growing cargo demand within a constrained airport is a challenge being increasingly faced by major cargo hubs all over the world.

In Europe, the most high-profile case is that of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which can offer a maximum of 500,000 movements per year, a limit that runs up until at least 2020. The airport almost reached that limit last year.

Freighter operators face the extra challenge of trying to meet IATA requirements to operate 80% of a series of planned services in order to maintain slots, which can sometimes be hard to do given the ad hoc nature of the air cargo sector.

This has resulted in some freighter operators losing their slots and moving services to nearby hubs - in the first quarter of 2018, full-freighter calls at the airport were down by 7.4%.

Head of aviation marketing, cargo, and customer experience Maaike van der Windt says that the loss of freighter services is the reason for a 2.1% year-on-year decline in first-quarter cargo volumes to 411,539 tonnes.

However, van der Windt and cargo team leader Bart Pouwels say that despite the movement limits there is still room for cargo to develop.

They explain that the recent decision to merge the cargo and aviation marketing teams will help with the push as freight will increasingly be taken into consideration when the team offers guidance and business intelligence to airlines operating at the hub.

“In cargo terms you can only grow volumes by putting more cargo in the available capacity and we still have available capacity in many of the passenger and freighter flights,” says Pouwels.

“So why should we not integrate [cargo and aviation marketing] and share experience and knowledge?”

Adds van der Windt: “Previously, when the passenger team was talking to network planning, they would mainly consider passengers.

“Now we try to ensure that the airlines’ network planners take cargo into consideration in whatever change they are going to make to a flight.

“We understand the flows for both passenger and cargo, we have the market intelligence and we can make the recommendations, but it is of course up to the airline to seize the opportunity.”

In a discussion paper published by the Netherlands airport, Collaborating in times of capacity constraints, the airport offers a tool that will maximise cargo capacity both belly and maindeck on intercontinental routes.

The report claims that there is “significant unused capacity” on for instance North American routes and that utilising a percentage of that spare space would bring increased revenue for airlines.

Another example of how airlines could up-gauge cargo capacity, points out Pouwels, is the use of cargo-friendly passenger aircraft –  for instance by shifting from an A330 to a B787 similar number of seats will be maintained but at the same time more belly capacity will be made available.

Pouwels also highlights the achievements of the Smart Cargo Mainport Programme, which has developed several data sharing platforms to help increase transparency of cargo and improve flows.

Pouwels adds that the Mainport programme, together with the network on offer at the airport, could help attract fast-growing e-commerce traffic.

“E-commerce companies look at a network and a reliable service, so those requirements are essential for us in terms of who operates out of Amsterdam and connects the rest of the world,” he says.

“From Amsterdam there are 326 direct destinations - this is very interesting for e-commerce. Also, e-commerce is driven by digital processes and the Smart Cargo Mainport Programme is a key driver for digitialising the air cargo sector.”

Van der Windt is also impressed by the Mainport programme, especially as it brings together many participants in the supply chain.

More recently, a write down of €42m led on freight stations five and six, which is where one of the airport’s largest cargo handlers, dnata, is based, led to reports suggesting that tenants in the two buildings would be removed to make way for passenger aircraft parking.

However, it is understood that the write down relates to the fact that the buildings will lose direct apron access as the area will be used for aircraft stands.

In a statement, Dnata pointed out that its contract at the airport runs through to December 2023.

“Dnata remains committed to its customers at Schiphol Airport and continues to provide them with quality and reliable ground and cargo handling services,” it added.

Looking to the longer term plans for the buildings, Schiphol says it is best not to attempt to predict future developments. Other reports have suggested the cargo operations at the buildings could eventually be moved to the Schiphol Southeast area of the airport.

As an aside, the airport said that the KLM Cargo building will be completely demolished by 2025 – the first part of the process took place in 2017 – and the airline’s cargo operations will be moved elsewhere.

Another major development for the local Schiphol air cargo community is the recent rejection by the Dutch government of a ‘local rule’ proposal that would have given freighter operators priority on the first 25% of any unused slots that are returned for re-allocation.

The rule was proposed in recognition of the difficulties freighter operators face in maintaining regular services in light of the ad hoc nature of the sector.

Under the local rule proposal, re-allocated slots would have been based on an estimate and, with the airport so close to breaching its annual movement limit, the government was concerned that this could have resulted in Schiphol exceeding 500,000 movements.

Players from the local air cargo community are already holding meetings to push for an amended version of the rule, something the government said it would be open to.

To conclude, van der Windt says: “Over the next few years we want to retain the business we have and once we understand what is possible after 2020 [when the slot limit will be up for discussion] we want to ensure we are ready for it.”

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