Posted by Thelma Etim

“It is no secret that the Schiphol cargo community was facing big challenges before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19,” Anne Marie van Hemert, head of aviation business development at the airport, admits. “But despite the pandemic, we have continued to work on the issues that matter most to our cargo community, and we are ready to move forward towards a better future for every member of the air cargo chain.”

AIRFREIGHT bosses at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport have admitted that they are now facing the prospect of “re-connecting” with the long-established Dutch air cargo community – admitting that there are major challenges ahead, writes Thelma Etim.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s premier air cargo hubs, Schiphol has recently undergone a major restructuring, which saw Bart Pouwels, the airport’s long-standing head of cargo, and Ferry van der Ent, director of business development for the cargo unit, vacate their roles in March of this year.

In the same timeframe, all airline and commercial cargo and operational activities were relocated into a single merged division under the Airport Operations and Aviation Partnerships Business Unit.

Nevertheless, despite the frustrating additional problems of slot restrictions and consequential freighter aircraft capacity shortages, the Dutch hub’s year-on-year air cargo throughput increased in the first six months of 2021. Latest figures show that, compared with the same period of last year, inbound freight tonnage was up by an average of 29.5 per cent, whilst outbound traffic rose by 25.7 per cent in the period.

The airport handled 837,671 tonnes from January to June in this year, a rise of 27.7 per cent. Of that, 572,111 tonnes were carried on freighter aircraft services ­– up by 23.4 per cent on the first half of 2020 – and 265,560 tonnes in passenger aircraft bellies, up by 38.10 per cent. Pre-pandemic cargo figures in 2019 were 385,319 tonnes for inbound and 382,200 tonnes for outbound cargo.

With increased global demand for main-deck air cargo space, the number of full freighter flights in the first six months of 2021 rose by 23.5 per cent year-on-year at Schiphol, reaching 12,691 rotations, whilst passenger belly-hold capacity dropped by 30.6 per cent to 73,346 flights. In the first half of 2019, 412,372 tonnes were carried on 6,938 full freighter flights and 355,147 tonnes on 235,169 passenger aircraft flights.

Meanwhile, the major European hub reveals that it is currently in the process of trying to resolve the slot restrictions situation by connecting with the cargo community and the Dutch government. Anne Marie van Hemert, head of aviation business development at the airport, stresses: “The figures demonstrate that cargo remains important, not only for Schiphol and its local airfreight community, but also for the economy of the Netherlands. We seek to find a joint solution to the slot issue.”

Van Hemert has publicly reaffirmed her commitment to working with the Schiphol cargo community as part of a new strategy “focusing on digitisation, sustainability and improving efficiency. All of which is aimed at rejuvenating Europe’s ‘smartest’ cargo hub”, says a statement. “It is no secret that the Schiphol cargo community was facing big challenges before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19,” she admits.

“But despite the pandemic, we have continued to work on the issues that matter most to our cargo community, and we are ready to move forward towards a better future for every member of the air cargo chain,” she adds. “There are big challenges ahead, but we have everything in place to succeed by working together.”

As part of the restructuring, Miriam Hoekstra-van der Deen stepped down as director of airport operations to be succeeded by Patricia Vitalis, who is now director of airport operations and aviation partnerships at the expanded unit. At the same time, Olaf Van Reeden and David Van der Meer were appointed as cargo partnership directors. Also, Roos Bakker is the new director of business development for the hub’s airline route and network development, including the Holland Flower Alliance, e-commerce, Asia and Africa responsibilities. They all report directly to Hélène van Riemsdijk-Schouten, the new manager of airline and cargo partnerships. In turn, she reports to van Hemert.

“The future of Schiphol Cargo will be about collaboration and the cargo partnership directors are focused on re-connecting with the cargo community and moving towards the future with plenty of energy,” van Riemsdijk-Schouten insists. “Our aim is to optimise top connectivity, realise state-of-the-art digitalisation, create a green airport, orchestrate seamless cargo processes and deploy empowered partnerships.”

The restructured unit will also continue to fully support existing ongoing initiatives of the cargo community, including those projects named as Vaccines Gateway Netherlands, Pharma Gateway Amsterdam, and the Smart Cargo Mainport Programme (SCMP), it says. The Dutch airport management company Royal Schiphol Group is also currently engaged in overhauling Cargonaut, its recently-acquired cargo data-sharing platform. The airport operator plans to revamp the platform’s outmoded Port Community System (PCS) to improve its efficiency in communicating within and across the airport cargo community’s supply chains – and the handling of rising volumes of e-commerce shipments.

Schiphol also intends to continue to support innovative green-schemes such as the ‘Milk Run’, whereby freight forwarders’ truck collections from handling agents are replaced by a single delivery process from the handling agent to multiple forwarders’ facilities, notes a statement.