Schiphol takes a pragmatic approach to cargo

Joost van Doesburg, head of cargo, Schiphol. Photo: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Schiphol Airport is taking a pragmatic approach to flight capacity limitations while continuing to work to protect freighter flights by lobbying to ring-fence slots for cargo aircraft.

Speaking to Air Cargo News, Schiphol head of cargo Joost van Doesburg says that the hub will remain an important place for freight despite reaching capacity in terms of the number of flights it can handle.

He points out that in 2023 cargo volumes at the airport declined at a lower rate than many of its rivals in what was a difficult year for air cargo.

However, he adds that the slot limit of 500,000 would put the number of all-cargo aircraft flights under pressure.

He says there is a “slow decline” in the number of freighter flights – pointing out that in January 2024 there were 1,307 freighter movements compared with 1,327 a year earlier, a drop off of 20.

“This will continue in my opinion for two reasons,” says van Doesburg. “Firstly, airlines are swapping their full freighter slots to passenger slots.

“It is very clear you can make more money on a passenger plane than on a freighter plane in a congested airport – we are completely sold out so that is why they are swapping slots.

“Secondly, you still see that many cargo airlines are not really used to operating in a congested airport or an airport where no slots are available.”

He explains that some freighter operators lose their slots if they fail to operate 80% of flights as allocated and all-cargo operations are more susceptible to delays than passenger operations given the nature of the business.

To help protect cargo flights, van Doesburg says the airport – along with the local air cargo community – is lobbying to ring-fence slots for freighters.

“We have in total 500,000 slots and we want to put a fence around 2.5% for freighter slots so that they cannot be swapped and so at least when a freighter operator loses their slots, another freighter operator will get the slots instead of a passenger airline.”

A limit of 2.5% was chosen because this matches the percentage of freighter flights currently handled at the airport, he explained.

Van Doesburg admits that the lobbying process is challenging and involves convincing regulators and government that the ring-fencing of slots for cargo operations is allowed under existing rules.

“We have an interpretation that [ring fencing] is possible and some have an interpretation that it is not possible so that is a discussion we have,” he says.

“We have this discussion with the Ministry of Transport and we have this discussion with the independent slot co-ordinator and we really try to push forward our vision that it is allowed.”

The hope is to have the freighter rule in place for the winter season 2025, he says.

Elsewhere, van Doesburg says the airport is focussing on improving cargo processes following the renewal of its Cargonaught port community system (PCS).

The PCS is a tech platform for information and data exchange between all internal cargo stakeholders at Schiphol and external authorities such as Customs.

The recent improvements deliver faster data processing, greater transparency and full compliance with the latest IATA ONE Record standards and guidelines.

Image: Shutterstock

He highlights three projects that are already underway following the upgrade: introducing slot booking, enhancing road feeder services and adding new security requirements for high-value imports.

The slot booking system is being developed with the cargo community and will help reduce incidents of trucks needing to queue at peak times.

The system means that anybody who comes to deliver or collect airfreight must first request a time slot digitally through a central platform – if the time slot is granted, parties can then go directly to a handler’s loading door.

Vehicles with unregistered freight will have to wait in a buffer parking lot from where they will be called as soon as their handler has the capacity.

The rule of the system will be managed by Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) and the central planning portal will be built by Cargonaut and SmartLOXS.

Handlers, truckers, and forwarders, along with representatives from Schiphol Airport and ACN recently signed a “best effort declaration” to utilise a slot booking system being developed as part of the Smart Cargo Mainport Program (SCMP).

He adds that Schiphol attracts high-value cargo and another project will aim to add more security to supply chains.

“With high tech, you see often that goods are being stolen,” van Doesburg explains. “Why? Because too many people know where high-value goods are, so we are creating a system where the data is much better protected and is only available on a must-see basis.”

The road feeder service project aims to gather together relevant data including transport schedules, flight number usage and collaboration between partners, and centralise this information in a secure digital location.

The project is part of SCMP and a collaboration between Schiphol, KLM Cargo, Cargonaut and Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) with its numerous associates.

It is hoped that the information will give cargo handlers a clearer picture of what is heading their way from other airports so they can deploy the necessary resources.

The airport will also welcome a new ground handler later this year when dnata opens a new facility at Schiphol.

The 61,000 sq m dnata Cargo City Amsterdam facility, located at Schiphol South-East, will be capable of processing over 850,000 tonnes of cargo annually.

The facility will handle all types of cargo, including perishables, pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods, mail, live animals, aircraft engines and vehicles.

“We are constructing the building and they are developing the inside,” says van Doesburg “We are investing over €100m in freight building 17 and this expresses how important we believe cargo is.”

To further highlight the importance of cargo to the airport, van Doesburg points out it is included in the airport’s eight-point plan for the future. Point number seven focuses on safeguarding cargo.

“Schiphol wants to safeguard cargo by keeping 2.5% of the available take-off and landing slots available for cargo,” the eight-point plan reads

“Due to international slot regulations, cargo flights are currently struggling to keep their slots at Schiphol. Cargo provides relatively high employment opportunities and is valuable for the economy and business climate.

“However, cargo flights will have to adhere to new, tighter rules for noisier aircraft and the new night closure will also apply to cargo.”

Schiphol launches upgraded Port Community System

Schiphol takes aim at truck slot booking system

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]