Fast and flexible freight

posted on 15th September 2020
Fast and flexible freight

The USP of air cargo is speed, and that is a very important factor in an uncertain and quickly changing environment, highlights Liège Airport’s VP
commercial Steven Verhasselt

Is a new normal (or a ‘pre-new normal’?) emerging for the air freight sector, or your organisation’s role within air freight, as some countries and their economies begin to emerge from the initial effects of the pandemic?
The importance of air cargo, for the logistics industry and more importantly so for the entire society, has been made clear for everyone to see. As a dedicated cargo airport, nobody in Liege needed convincing, but now many others are finally on the same page. The supply chain will definitely be scrutinised, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We believe the added value of dedicated cargo operations will become and remain an important factor.

What does that ‘new normal’ look like – or do organisations now have to prepare for several ‘new normals’?
It’s very hard to predict what the new normal will look like, but for sure – and as always – flexibility will be the key to success. In order to prepare for maximum flexibility, rather than for different scenarios, organisations need to make sure decisions can be made quickly and implemented quickly.

The USP of air cargo is speed, and that is a very important factor in an uncertain and quickly changing environment. We as an industry need to make sure that the speed is offered doorto- door, not airport-to-airport. A stronger cooperation withing the cargo communities on both sides is the best way to deliver as promised, and that will be more important than ever in the new normal.

To what extent has your business adapted to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and measures taken to limit its spread?
The increased awareness for the need to emphasise more on security and safety will definitely benefit the organisation. As much as we believed we were prepared, it turns out there is a lot of room for improvement. Lessons are learned and implemented in a minimum of time. We need to remain vigilant and continue to improve.

To what extent have approaches to planning had to change as the effects of the pandemic have progressed?
As a dedicated cargo airport, a ‘go-to airport’ for freighter operations, LGG has been working hard to optimise capacity. With strong growth, high demand at short notice, resources are scarce. The LGG cargo community as a unit has worked hard to make it all happen when it was needed the most. Now we need to learn how we did that exactly, and make sure we get used to dealing with peaks without hampering speed and quality of the cargo flow.

To what extent can companies or organisations meaningfully plan ahead at the current time?
If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is the relativity of planning and budgeting. I don’t think anyone had it right, as planning different scenarios will never go to that extreme (situation presented by the pandemic). I believe companies need to assess their flexibility and adaptability to new market conditions and requirements. Planning ahead would focus rather on what to do to be ready, rather than try to plan ahead what to be ready for.

What are the implications of these changes for your organisation?
The most obvious change is the confirmation that working from home is a valid value proposition. Not everything can be done from home; but we do realise that a daily commute, or a travelling routine, is maybe not the most efficient way to organise work either.

For LGG as an organisation, all the changes and requirements have confirmed that we are on the right way, but we need to work hard to go further in order to fully reap the benefits. LGG is flexible, but needs to be more flexible. Digitisation has been started, but so much more is possible if we can connect all stakeholders in the supply chain.

How sustainable is this situation?
The supply chains have had time to adapt to the new requirements, the peak for air freight is gone, and we return to healthy levels of demand, and healthy levels of yields. The combination of long supply chains and immediate demand has led to freighters, or pax aircraft flying as freighters, with low-value high-volume commodities like masks and other PPE material. That is not sustainable, but it was necessary, and our industry delivered.

Let’s hope the positives remain in place. First, the higher appreciation for cargo. Very important as well is the regulators who reacted quickly. LGG supports strongly the decoupling of traffic rights for freighters – which should remain at the current liberal levels, rather than go back to bilateral (traffic rights) that are very much based on passenger demand.

Any other observations?
I am very proud to be part of the industry which stepped up and delivered when it was needed. I applaud all the first-line workers, and I want to thank everybody working in the supply chain to enable the first-line works to do a wonderful job.