Shiphol looking eagerly to the future after a lackluster 2011

Activity at Amsterdam Schiphol is already picking up in 2012.  Turf for the new 45-acre Schiphol Logistics Park has just been cut, and the airport’s passenger terminals will soon be expanded, which will unfortunately necessitate moving some cargo bases. Finally, the airport’s A4 Zone West project, a 141-acre development, is starting to generate momentum.

“We are looking at something like 2016 to initiate this project, which will be aimed at attracting value-added businesses,” Enno Osinga, the airport’s senior vice president of cargo, said about the Zone West project. “Importantly, this will also provide us with the opportunity to create a dedicated high-speed rail link for cargo.”

The future, it seems, is a bit brighter than the present. Last year, Amsterdam Schiphol saw only a 0.8-percent, year-over-year, growth in cargo. Even though seemingly every other major European airport experienced a flat or declining 2011, Osinga isn’t celebrating Schiphol’s modest accomplishment — he’s looking toward the year ahead.

“It can appear a little crazy at times, when you have to think positive about the future and make critical investment decisions at a time like now, when the market is down,” Osinga said. “It may seem that I am taking my eye off the immediate ball, but I find that my focus is more and more concerned about future cargo activity at Schiphol, rather than what is happening today.”

Schiphol also continues to develop its Smartgate concept to facilitate rapid Customs inspection of goods moving through the airport.

“We have moved on from the initial idea of creating Smartgate as a single Customs inspection area,” Osinga said. “Now we intend to locate satellite inspection areas in the warehouses of all the airport’s designated handlers.”

Typically, a validated  truck driver can now have his airport ID card encrypted with all the data related to the cargo he is delivering to an airport warehouse. “As soon as he reaches the security gate, the card can be swiped and the information immediately passed on to the handler to allow them to start processing the shipments even before they have been offloaded from the truck,” says Osinga.

Osinga has also been a valiant champion of e-freight, but he will admit this has come with varied success. “It is vital that e-freight is fully embraced by this industry sooner rather than later,” he said. “We have worked hard as an airport to facilitate its implementation, but ultimately this is an initiative which will have to be taken up by the forwarders and airlines, driven largely by the shipper.”

That does not mean Schiphol has backed out of the e-freight fray. Osinga recently commented that airport officials “still keep coming up with our little bolt-ons and add-ons to help the process.”

More ambitiously, Schiphol is developing a close working relationship with Korea’s Incheon Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport in which the promotion of e-freight is expected to be the main driver. “We are working together with certain carriers to move this particular e-freight  initiative forward,” says Osinga. “The ambition is to develop, in effect, a Green Channel between the three gateways.”

All these projects come on the heels of a lackluster 2011. A 10-percent outage in Far East traffic inflicted the most damage in 2011; those routings critically account for 40 percent of traffic flows. But the Dutch gateway also found itself a victim of the vagaries of the freighter business. According to Osinga, Schiphol can now claim credit for the fact that 58 percent of its cargo business moves on freighter services. The number of overall  freighter flights grew 2.1 percent last year, with new services added by the likes of Saudia, Etihad and Centurion, plus additional flights by AirBridgeCargo.

“It is perhaps a reflection of what happened in the market, but for the first five months of last year, we were showing good growth; in the last seven months, figures fell away by 7.2 percent,” he said.

Schiphol is now putting the past behind it, embracing the possibilities of future success even as it rides the turbulent seas of the current economy.

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