Learning to co-operate

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The CEOs of Amsterdam Schiphol airport, Aéroports de Paris and Seoul Incheon signed an historic cooperation agreement in 2011 and renewed it earlier this year.

The airports’ collaboration involves operations, customer service and cargo. They have seconded staff to one another for up to six months at a time to facilitate sharing of ideas and best practice.

The three cargo departments have collaborated on community systems design and implementation, and the European partners are examining the concept of biodegradable pallet wrapping, based on pioneering work carried out at Incheon.

Enno Osinga, Schiphol’s senior VP cargo, says: “Cooperation on a cargo level is important if we understand air freight to be part of an integrated supply chain, not an isolated product for which the airport is just an enabler.”

A priority is to work with governments and private interests to ensure systems are compatible and to streamline the customs process. “By definition it’s a slow process,” Osinga says. “You’re facing different regulatory environments, and there can be language barriers and cultural differences.”

Schiphol was in a previous alliance, joining with Hong Kong and Changi at cargo community system level in a project designed to accelerate the adoption of e-freight.

Osinga insists that Schiphol does not incentivise customers or undertake joint marketing with alliance partners. “You need to have the product and the process first,” he says. “If you get that right, the airlines will come.”

A different philosophy appears to underlie the new World Cargo Airports Alliance, formed in May by Zhengzhou’s Xinzheng airport and Frankfurt-Hahn.

Novosibirsk Tolmachevo airport (OVB) recently became the WCAA’s third member. Sultan Jarmukhanov, first deputy to the director general at OVB, said the alliance would “provide a whole new level of service and optimise the supply chain connecting Europe, Russia and China”.

The common link between the three airports is Chinese forwarder BST Logistics, which has five offices in China as well as Novosibirsk, Moscow, Frankfurt, New York and Chicago.

BST, together with its European and US agent, Navitrans, has wet-leased an Atlas Air B747-8F since late last year for a twice-weekly round the world service and a Shanghai-Zhengzhou-Hahn service. The companies also charter a weekly TNT 747-400ERF from Shanghai to Liege and ad hoc freighter flights.

The WCAA was BST’s initiative, but Sebastian Chan, an adviser to the company, insists it is not driving the agenda.

“The alliance started through discussions about the most cost-effective airports and the best for customer service,” he says. “We are a smaller company and we have to ensure competitive advantage. It was the airports’ wish to ally themselves with others, but they didn’t know each other. They asked us to help them.”

Chan denies that WCAA members’ operating standards are based on service level agreements with BST, but admits: “We fly to those that can meet our requirements. As a user, we know what we want to see. Member airports have their own thoughts and wishes, and can sell the benefits to other users.

WCAA is currently talking with one airport in “Europe or Asia” – Chan will not identify it more closely than that – and one in the US.

“Airports are now coming to us and want to understand what it’s all about,” Chan adds. “We’re middle men, arranging meetings, but will slowly move out of this.”