The air cargo industry has evolved in recent years with trends and expectations for shipped goods altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. More cargo is being sent around the globe and people expect to receive their shipments quickly.
With more people turning to air cargo for timely shipments, the cargo handling industry has been presented with several challenges as well as many opportunities. Dirk Goovaerts, head of Middle East and Africa and global cargo chair at Swissport International, spoke with Ground Support Worldwide at the IATA Ground Handling Conference earlier this year to discuss the changes in the cargo industry and share his company’s plans to address challenges and meet cargo demand.
“Swissport had already a very, very strong cargo setup prior to the pandemic,” Goovaerts says.
“Prior to the pandemic, in fact, we had sufficient capacity everywhere. What we are seeing is we are running out of capacity,” he continues. “We are really trying to make sure we find capacity at existing airports or finding capacity in a creative way by collaborating with the stakeholders in the value chain.”
With increased e-commerce volumes expected to remain steady moving forward, Swissport anticipates its cargo portfolio will continue to grow. Traditionally, cargo handling represented approximately 20 percent of the company’s overall revenue. That figure is likely to increase to approximately 25 percent.
As this segment of the business grows, Goovaerts says the most important thing Swissport can provide is consistency through service.
“We have a clear ambition to grow our cargo presence. We do that through a number of key pillars,” Goovaerts explains.
“First of all, consistency of service underpins the growth of the business. So, if you provide a consistent high service, that is, I think, the entry gate to growth,” he says. “The second pillar is we try to grow in our existing stations.”
To do so, Swissport is optimizing its current facilities and processes in order to put more volume through its existing stations and warehouses.
“So, this means proper innovation, digitalization and so on to get more volume throughput,” he says. “Then we also try to identify in our existing stations where we see growth coming and we identify that additional warehouse space, and we secure that warehouse space.”
Recent examples include expansion at Vienna airport, acquiring Belgium Airport Services (BAS) in Liege and securing additional warehouse space in Amsterdam, among others.
Promoting Industry Cooperation
Goovaerts says Swissport is also playing a role in developing air cargo communities.
“Where air cargo communities have been established in the past, the volume of air cargo has increased,” he says, pointing to existing cargo communities at Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Brussels as successful examples.
Linking all the stakeholders in the chain allows players in the cargo industry to work toward the greater good, Goovaerts explains. He says it makes the airport more attractive and allows all the logistical stakeholders to work toward a common goal.
“We want to play a driving role to do this,” Goovaerts says.
Goovaerts’ role as cargo chair at Swissport is intended to aid these efforts. In this position, he works with Swissport’s global cargo teams to identify successful processes and replicate them elsewhere.
“We have different knowledge bases. There’s a knowledge base about forwarding and general sales agents,” he says. “There are subject matter experts about operational delivery, another subject matter expert about digitalization and innovation and other subject matter experts about commercial.
“Through these subject matter experts, we can offer solutions to an airline at multiple stations.”
For example, Swissport recently established a fresh flower corridor from Africa to Europe. Because fresh flowers are delicate, Swissport leveraged its processes for shipping pharmaceuticals to ensure the flowers were stored at a consistent temperature to increase it shelf life after it arrived in Amsterdam from Nairobi.
Consistent processes among Swissport’s cargo divisions and individual locations also benefit employees. Goovaerts notes the same cargo management systems are used at each station, which allows new products to be implemented globally and allows current employees to seamlessly move from one station to another as they advance their career.
As Swissport grows its cargo business, company officials have an eye on sustainability, too.
At the global level, Nadia Kaddouri was hired as the company’s chief strategy and sustainability officer. Within the cargo business, specifically, Goovaerts says every new cargo warehouse that Swissport operates will utilize solar panels. At existing warehouses, Swissport is entering discussions with the property owners to have solar panels installed.
“I think it’s a win-win. Because what we see by putting in these solar panels is you reduce your electricity bill as well. It’s good for the environment and it’s also good for our costs,” Goovaerts says.
The company is also investing in electric forklifts and recently introduced an electrically powered automated guided vehicle at its Frankfurt location to reduce emissions.
“In the warehouses, we are very, very green,” Goovaerts says. “On the airside, we are moving fast also to battery-driven equipment wherever we can. There, we need also the airports to join us because they need to provide charging ports. But it’s moving fast and we’re 100 percent committed to following that track.”
On the airside, Swissport is converting baggage and cargo tractors to electric drivelines, according to Goovaerts. He also notes new GSE technology, like collision avoidance technology, is making cargo handling operations safer and more efficient.
What’s more, he says the cargo handling industry is gaining efficiencies by eliminating pencil-and-paper tasks and making those processes electronic. This also helps with sustainability goals because there is less waste.
Swissport intends to continue its cargo expansion.
After entering the Australian market in 2018 with ground handling services, Swissport officials see an opportunity to expand organically by introducing cargo handling products to that region.
According to Goovaerts, Swissport’s cargo business also has opportunities to grow in Asia as well as the United States.
Goovaerts adds that complex cargo hub operations are a specialty of Swissport, so expanding its cargo business in those locations is also an opportunity.