Schiphol’s Pouwels does more with less in Amsterdam community

Throughout 2018, the dominant story about Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) has been the shortage of freighter slots, due to a 500,000 “aircraft movements” limit set by the Dutch government. As a result, one prominent carrier, AirBridgeCargo, shifted its European hub from AMS to nearby Liège Airport. As this issue was going to press, the local aviation authority was considering a rule change to give priority of the first 25 percent of any unused slots for freighter aircraft, but Bart Pouwels, the head of cargo at AMS, said the slot shortage has already reduced movements of full freighters at Schiphol by 10 to 14 percent so far this year, representing a loss in cargo volume of about 2.5 percent.

During last month’s TIACA Air Cargo Forum in Toronto, we caught up with Pouwels, who told Air Cargo World that the congestion will continue at least until 2020. He also discussed some ways that Schiphol is doing more with less space, how smart algorithms can save time and labor, and how to form communities not only within airports but also between them.

Q: How have you been able to cope with the loss of the freighter traffic?

Bart Pouwels: While we lost some volume carried on full freighters, we also saw a 6 percent growth of cargo on the belly side. That is one of the strategic things that we look into – we cannot grow in terms of movements, but there’s still room for growth at Amsterdam for cargo. The option is to maximize the load factor. Most of the full freighters already are capped and full. But on the belly side, we have done an investigation, and we see that, on certain lanes, half of the capacity is unused. Flying from North America to Amsterdam is often only 50 percent full. So, there is a lot of potential to use more of that space.

Q: How do you better use that extra belly space?

BP: That’s an easy question to ask, but difficult to answer. If I speak to network planners for passenger airlines, I explain to them what logistics is, what the value of air cargo is, and gradually it’s integrated into their business model, as well. The strategy of our hub carriers is to focus on belly freight. Air France-KLM, for instance, is putting a combi in the market where there’s a high need for cargo, such as the Nairobi- Amsterdam route, for the flowers. They are adding the combi in the high season to accommodate 40 tonnes extra, next to their full freighter. We are handling 1.7 million tonnes per year, but the potential could be up to 3 million tonnes.

Q: How are you are making cargo movement more efficient at Schiphol?

BP: Two years ago, we launched the Smart Cargo Mainport program, which focuses on route improvement and getting more-efficient flows from inbound and outbound cargo. One of the projects that the program is working on is about optimizing the connection between the freight forwarding community and the handling companies, where you share data. We have developed an app for the truckers to notify the handling companies about when they are arriving, so instead of having 20 trucks going through the same gate, you try to plan it by having peak and nonpeak management. Another thing is “automated nomination.” If you have a lot of cargo coming in, do you know what the handling company or the freight forwarder is when you see the goods? Sometimes you need to unpalletize to find out which forwarder gets the right item. Based on the smart algorithms of automated nomination, we know in advance who the carrier is, who the handler is, and probably the destination. If you notify them up front you can save a lot of labor. But it’s only due to sharing data within the community.

Q: How do you get reluctant stakeholders to share this data?

BP: Within the Smart Cargo Mainport program, you can’t have a good system unless all the handling companies participate, and they must believe in it. You must also be willing to participate in a small group. If you invite 20 companies, it’s not going to work, because then there’s too many around the table – too many opinions. So, we try to have an approach where we can choose a few frontrunners and develop small teams. Also, you can’t make selections of participants and expect them to take part. You can only launch [the community] as an idea and then see who steps in and puts in their own energy. We just ask, “Please join in,” and try to motivate them by pointing out potential benefits, but we can’t force them.

Q: Are you forming collaborative relationships with other airports?

BP: When I talk about collaboration, I don’t talk about supply chains, I talk about supply communities. We have signed a memorandum of understanding [MOU] with Mumbai Airport, and our community platform, called Cargonaut, has signed an MOU with Carlisle Logistics, the airport’s IT counterpart in Mumbai, to facilitate trade via a digital corridor. What does that mean? If you ship from India to Amsterdam, and you know the data is recognized by customs on both ends as being reliable and sent by known and approved shippers, then you have an advantage. We began the program last year, so I expect that, in another year, we will have the first really good results.

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