The cargo division of Amsterdam Schiphol airport is enjoying a return to consistent solid growth whilst simultaneously driving multi-million euros investment in transforming its operational processes.

This year up until the end of June it was 8.8 percent up in volume overall from the same period last year, which is double the percentage growth of all the other major airports in Europe.

Clearly the combination of strategies it is implementing is now paying off. In terms of growth, by nature air cargo is a volatile industry and Schiphol is no different in this respect; in May it was 14 percent up, then June was 8.0 percent up, so there can be some monthly disparity.

Enno Osinga, Senior VP Cargo at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol said: “On the whole I am very confident we are seeing good overall growth. We started picking up last August then in November and December it was double-digit growth largely thanks to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One launches leading up to Christmas.

“We have been solid in our growth figures for quite a while now though.”

Traditionally, there has been much more volume coming into Europe from China than there is going the other way. But in the past 18 months, Schiphol has been almost perfectly balanced in terms of inbound and outbound traffic.

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This is partly because, as a result of having significant operations at Schiphol (often including airside access) leading global freight forwarders have started pulling their cargo out of the rest of Europe and consolidating it at Amsterdam. Then it gets sent out to destination markets like Asia.

Strategic epicentre

Schiphol is the third largest cargo airport in Europe after Frankfurt and Paris and its origins go back nearly 100 years. More recently it has focused on providing a full logistic hub facility, to European industries. As a result, many multinational groups have their European distribution centres in the region.

Logistics has always been part of the Netherlands’ core competences: the largest number of specialist airfreight trucking companies are actually based in the country and there has been significant road infrastructure investment branching out towards the rest of Europe too.

Schiphol is very close to the seaports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the first and fifth largest ports in Europe. This again strengthens the Netherlands’ position as a strategic gateway, and supports Osinga’s belief that creating a national logistics hub helps grow cargo business.

It is a logistics-minded country; geographically everything stands very close together so a major manufacturing company can bring in its goods both by sea or air and deliver them into the same distribution centre.

Digital connectivity revolution

Schiphol Cargo is now working very closely together with numerous organisations to build a new total logistics information platform that will hold all the data from all the goods that enter and leave the Netherlands whether they travel by sea, truck or air.

Osinga said: “That is very complex and will take a long time before it is fully completed. But imagine if you’re a customer and you use all these modalities to bring goods to the Netherlands, how incredibly strong it is if you’re able to manage all those different traffic streams through one single digital database.

“It’s a vast job, we have been working on it for 18 months and will still be working on it for many more months to perfect it.

“This process to fully digitise our cargo operations has been running for 5 or 6 years and we are talking a major investment in resources. Over 20 percent of shipments are completely E-shipments. By the end of 2015 we hope to be at 100 percent to really enhance and streamline the whole process.”

The cargo division at Amsterdam states it is continually creating and maintaining ‘relevant and valuable connections’ geographically in order to build an impressive business network.

Two big advantages are it can work in parallel with stakeholders like the airlines, trucking and handling companies plus customs rather than having to wait for the next person to fall in, and eliminating paper will be an obvious benefit to the digital revolution.

Osinga added: “An airport is the most critical part of the supply chain. Once in the belly of an aircraft or put into a truck... it’s fine. It is the bit in between that is crucial where things have a chance of going wrong- and that is all at the airport.”

Schiphol offered forwarders the opportunity to have their own facilities with direct air side access. Which means when air cargo comes in, forwarders have it in their own hands within two hours of arrival of the aircraft, rather than the more common wait of up to nine hours.

Marketplace matters

Osinga is involved in managing Air Cargo Netherlands, which is a branch organisation of everybody involved in air cargo in the nation.

Organisation wise, Schiphol Cargo continually looks for process and procedure improvement in a collaborative sense rather than taking an isolated, fragmented approach.

Over the years, it has won a lot of awards specifically as a cargo airport and that has been driven by innovation. When IATA started with its E-Freight project, Schiphol acted as a catalyst. As a result of which, it was very much the benchmark airport.

Amsterdam Airport also has a highly developed, multi-lingual workforce with substantial experience in all modalities who are in essence internationally-minded. All its current and future focus is on international trade and fully integrated logistics.

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