Schiphol's head of cargo talks mergers, slots and new challenges

28 / 03 / 2018

Schiphol Airport’s decision to merge its cargo department with its aviation marketing division took many in the industry by surprise, given its support for the development of its freight business over the past few years.

However, Schiphol head of cargo Jonas van Stekelenburg points out this is not the first time the two departments have been merged: they have been combined twice in the past 30 years and twice they have separated again.

The last time they were separated, under the leadership of industry stalwart Enno Osinga, was during the financial crisis of 2008, suggesting the shift in status tends to come at a time of change for air cargo.

Time to move on

One downside to the merging of the two departments is the loss of van Stekelenburg, who decided that now was a good time to look for a new role.

He explains that as well as the merger of the two departments, the airport has also appointed a new chief executive, Dick Benschop, who starts in May.

Van Stekelenburg says that it would be good for a new team to come in and start work with the new set-up from scratch.

The move will see Maaike van der Windt head up the new Aviation Marketing and Cargo Division from its launch on April 1.

Meanwhile, Bart Pouwels, director business development cargo, is to lead the cargo team within the merged department from April.

Van Stekelenburg will continue to work for the airport until June, when he becomes a free agent.

“I have a very good relationship [with the airport’s management], it was my choice to go. They gave me lots of opportunities to develop myself so I am very happy to go.

“At the moment I don’t know where to go, what it will be, but for the rest, it is a very good exit.”

During the interim period, he will continue to look after 1 2 Send, the same-day delivery company set up by the airport, and also provide assistance to van der Windt during a handover period.

Schiphol stalwart

Van Stekelenburg has spent the last 16 years working for the airport, first in the legal department, then at its Angkasa Pura Schiphol joint venture in Indonesia, before heading back to the Netherlands to work as innovation and sustainability director and then to head the cargo business.

He hopes that in the future he will be able to continue to work in cargo in some capacity and says that most people have said they are sorry to see him go.

Dutch shipper and logistics groups Transport and Logistics Netherlands (TLN), Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) and evofenedex issued a joint statement following news of his departure and the merger: “[We] regret the departure of van Stekelenburg: he had an eye for the entire airfreight chain and in the last few years he was particularly interested in innovation in this area.”

Excellent ambassador

Another major airline executive also expressed to Air Cargo News his appreciation for what van Stekelenburg has achieved over the last three years: “Jonas has shown himself to be an excellent ambassador to the cargo community with a very sharp focus on innovation and co-operation models, bringing new insights and co-ordinating new developments.”

On the merger of the two departments, the shipper and logistics groups and airline executive have urged the airport to maintain its focus on cargo.“[We] trust that air cargo and cargo flights remain a core activity of and at the national airport,” the groups say. “[We] would like to discuss with Schiphol the strategy to strengthen the freight position in the coming years.”

The airline executive adds: “For me what counts is the deliverables and the deliverables over the last three years have been very good in my opinion. For sure I will monitor [the situation] and expect no less on those deliverables than I have had in the past three years.”

Van Stekelenburg, meanwhile, is positive about the merger, suggesting that it could even play a role in helping to mitigate the capacity issues faced by the hub.

The airport is currently facing a slot shortage and last year almost breached its 500,000 aircraft movement cap.

Cargo carriers argue they have suffered disproportionately due to the lack of slots because, under existing IATA rules, any airline that uses more than 80% of its allocated slots acquires a historic right to them and will automatically be allowed to operate its flights next season. But those that use fewer than 80% of their allocated slots automatically lose them.

All-cargo carriers, with their less regular schedules, often find it difficult to meet the 80% rule.

“What we saw with the slots last year, there were multiple problems, but one of the problems was that, within Schiphol, the passenger side and cargo side separately dealt with slots,” explains van Stekelenburg.

“If you deal with slots separately, you do not fully grasp the situation, what the other side wants, and we also ran into difficulties over who we favour and do not favour.

“By combining these two departments, who is responsible for slots for example, you will be higher up in the organisation and also there will be greater synergy — you will not have to negotiate with each other, it is the department that decides.”

Another area that van Stekelenburg believes will benefit from the merger is the digitisation of shared processes at the airport.

“With digitisation it is the same thing,” he says. “To give an example, we are now working on the readiness of aircraft in the gate. Previously, the readiness of the belly cargo was completely separate to the readiness of the passengers, all the luggage, all the documents.

“There was no readiness automation involved and they would need to go through cargo to find out. By combining these two departments we have tackled that.”

Slot situation

Moving back to the slot situation, van Stekelenburg says that predictions of a collapse in cargo volumes as a result of the capacity shortage proved a little premature, although he admits that certain freighter flights moved to nearby airports.

He explains that freighter operators had struggled initially to obtain ad hoc slots — unused slots returned to a pool for re-allocation.

“In the first week of the IATA winter season [running from the end of October to the end of March], we saw a 10% cut [in freighter flights] but then the airlines grabbed ad hoc slots and so we recovered.

“There were some big airlines, like Emirates SkyCargo and AirBridgeCargo, that lost some of their operations at Schiphol, but the others all recovered.”

He adds that there is likely to be a similar shortage of slots as the summer season gets underway, but he expects the situation to correct itself as it did last year.

A look at the numbers from Schiphol confirms van Stekelenburg’s claims. In November, full-freighter movements were down by 11.6% year on year, whereas by February that number had been reduced to 3.6%.

Overall cargo volumes followed a similar trend; in November, cargo tonnage was down by 0.9% year on year but in February the airport had returned to growth with a 0.5% increase, although demand in February is affected by the timing of the Chinese New Year.

Looking to the future, van Stekelenburg points out a couple of factors that could help improve the slot situation at Schiphol.

First, the 500,000 slot limit runs until 2020 when it will be reviewed. Secondly, airlines are introducing larger aircraft to services, which offer greater passenger and cargo-carrying capacity.

Lastly, the Schiphol aviation community has been working on a ‘local rule’ that proposes all-cargo operators, which account for around 3% of total traffic at the airport, have priority on the first 25% of any unused slots returned for reallocation.

The local rule

The local rule is currently winging its way through the Dutch political process and most people Air Cargo News spoke to are confident that it will be passed.

“Even though we only have 500,000 traffic movements, there is still room for growth,” says van Stekelenburg. “We have to bear in mind that Schiphol is, air traffic movement wise, one of the biggest, we have more movements than Heathrow, for example, it is just with smaller aircraft.”

Given the response from the cargo industry to news of van Stekelenburg’s departure from the airport, it seems his time in charge of the cargo business has been a success. But what does he feel is his greatest achievement?

Although he does not take credit for the demand improvements registered over the last couple years, he says this is something he is proud of.

The airport achieved cargo tonnage records in both 2016 and 2017, with last year seeing demand increase by 5.4% year on year to 1.7m tonnes.

He has also enjoyed playing a role in the development of the airport’s innovation community.

He says: “On a personal note, what I have enjoyed a lot is the development of the Smart Cargo Mainport Programme as an innovation co-operation between Air France KLM Martinair (AF KLM), Customs and all the other players at Schiphol.

“Forming a community like this is a typically Dutch thing to do and it has been making progress. It is also tough because everybody has different interests, but that is also what I like.”

The Smart Cargo Mainport Programme’s latest innovation is the development of a new online portal that links critical flower shipment data to air waybills at source.

Detailed data

Shipment data, such as number of boxes, flower type and number of flowers and stems in each box, is linked to air waybill numbers and a unique code gives all users access to all the data in one place.

Another pilot project aimed to speed up the processing of cargo travelling between AF KLM’s Frankfurt facility and Schiphol.

Users submit various pieces of data, including Customs information and shipment details, to a central system that allows Schiphol, cargo handlers, truckers, forwarders, shippers, Customs and the airline to plan ahead for the cargo’s arrival.

Another project aims to reduce air waybill errors through the development of a compliance checker.

The system sends automatic alerts if it discovers incorrect information, preventing delays caused by sending non-compliant cargo to Customs.

It seems that with the ongoing successes of the Mainport programme, van Stekelenburg’s time at the airport will not be quickly forgotten.