Monday, June 17, 2024
Air Cargo Belgium brings innovation to the industry

Air Cargo Belgium brings innovation to the industry

Striving to make BRUCargo the most attractive, efficient, innovative and successful logistical platform, Air Cargo Belgium (ACB) has had to adapt to an ever changing and increasingly competitive airfreight world.  

Having been founded in 2016, the cargo community organisation at Brussels Airport has played an important role in the development of the European hub in recent years. “The strength of Air Cargo Belgium (ACB) as an innovative cluster of 150 companies is cooperation. In different steering groups we bring together the different stakeholders in our industry. Airlines, forwarders, ground handlers and trucking companies work together to bring innovation to the air cargo industry,” Geert Keirens, director of ACB, stated. 

To stay ahead, ACB has worked to identify the areas that are key to successful cargo operations, maximising the opportunities within the space to grow for the benefit of the BRUcargo community. “We do this by launching projects on digitisation, sustainability, pharma, operational excellence, and other topics important for our supply chain. By bringing together air cargo specialists and motivated young potentials we create a unique ecosystem that results in solutions that would not be possible on company level. We can introduce innovations much faster than in other airports with a high success rate,” Keirens added.  

Read more: Liege Airport saw freight transport decline in 2022 as passenger numbers rose

Building up Brussels 

The success of the partnership in Brussels was seen during the Covid pandemic, when ACB and Brussels Airport joined forces in the BRUcure task force to facilitate the safe and efficient import and export of Covid vaccines by air. By doing this Brussels Airport became the number one airport in Europe for the vaccine distribution worldwide, shipping over 2 billion units to more than 120 countries. “In this way, we are making our contribution to people’s general health and welfare and to solving the current worldwide pandemic,” Keirens highlighted. 

It hasn’t always been smooth for the organisation or its partners, with the whole air cargo industry having faced a turbulent time in recent years. In the Brussels Airport region specifically, ACB has seen several constraints and bottlenecks that could jeopardise future development.  

“Mobility, an airport embedded in a very populated area and close to Brussels, a very difficult job market with insufficient labour force and talent to cope with the growth of the business are a few of the challenges we have,” Keirens explained. However, with strategic future planning, vision and cooperation within its community and at Brussels Airport, they hope to tackle the challenges better and faster than other regions. 

Ever changing environment 

With the market becoming more competitive, international challenges and new opportunities have reshaped the industry. As mentioned previously, digitalisation and sustainability are two of the topics at the forefront of ACB’s thinking. “We think that both go hand in hand and should be part of the same roadmap,” Keirens stated. 

At ACB, the organisation has supported the set up and rollout of the Brussels Airport data sharing platform BRUcloud.  All air cargo stakeholders share data on this platform by creating and using applications to support and steer the operational processes. In 2022, ACB implemented a Digital Green Lane together with Brussels Airport for the handover process of cargo between forwarders and air cargo handlers at the airport. “Better utilisation of resources and huge reduction in waiting times are the result of this innovation. Community dashboards on quality, operational performance and sustainability are a tool to benchmark performance, but more importantly, they support the continued improvement and progress towards our goals,” Keirens said. 

“Global warming keeps the world awake at night, so even more in our industry. The roadmap towards zero CO2 emissions is a thorough one and needs more changes in a few years/decades than we have ever seen,” Keirens explained. ACB is part of a European project: STARGATE with Brussels Airport as project leader and lighthouse airport to bring changes and solutions towards the climate goals. “With ACB, we focus on the air cargo roll and supply chain in this by using digitalisation to optimise processes, capacity, use of assets and electrification.  We share our lessons learned and roadmap with Athens and Budapest, two partner airports within Stargate.” 

Read more: Flightwatch to open new branch at Brussels Airport

The path forward 

As an industry, those across the airfreight sector need the environment to be able to operate internationally, growing to meet the needs of a global economy. However, sometimes that conflicts with (short term) plans of governmental bodies. Looking forward, ACB hopes to mitigate this insufficient approach from governments through lobbying and consultation. “The regional differences in legislation and regulation sometimes make it difficult when being part of a worldwide transport system that needs to operate as one. A more central, European approach would result in more stability and a level playing field,” Keirens proposed. 

At ACB, they strongly work together with the local Brussels Airport cargo community, but also on a regional and international level, meaning that cooperation and collaboration is crucial. “In Belgium, we cooperate with Liege and Ostend when it comes to national issues or responsibilities like new customs systems. But we also share knowledge on digitalisation. Within Europe we share views and ideas with other air cargo communities like AMS, FRA and CDG. In 2023 we will set up a project on sharing driver data to facilitate the security process,” Keirens said. 

Fluctuating demand has raised some concerns within the airfreight sector. However, ACB was quick to highlight that, while volumes are down since October compared to 2021, they are still significantly up compared to 2019. “Thanks to the innovation brought and the pivotal role we played during the pandemic we have seen our volumes grow faster than other airports in recent years, and also the downward trend is less steep. But 2023 volumes are expected to go down further, so adapting to the situation is a must,” Keirens stated. 

Focusing on the future, Keirens was clear that the key to growing cargo volumes is a clear stategy: focus and innovation.  “Not only the volumes are important.  Airfreight is a premium product in transport so a focus on added value of our services, speed and reliability is key.”   

Picture of Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy

Having become a journalist after university, Edward Hardy has been a reporter and editor at some of the world's leading publications and news sites. In 2022, he became Air Cargo Week's Editor. Got news to share? Contact me on Edward.Hardy@AirCargoWeek.com

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