Flexing its muscles

If you were to connect the European cities of Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt on a map you would be left with what some refer to as a ‘golden triangle’, a dense area of production that is unique for the continent and handles approximately 66 per cent of all of its freight traffic. At the very heart of this triangle sits the city of Liège and its international airport. Such is its geographic position that the airport, thanks to its neighbouring motorway network, sits less than one day by truck away from approximately 400 million consumers.

Created 25 years ago to act as its operator, Liege Airport s.a. emerged with a unique strategy for the airport, one that was focused almost entirely around facilitating the movement of cargo. With its rural location allowing for a 24 hour per day operation, during which time it supports as many as 90 flights per night, the airport today handles 1800 tonnes of freight per day, placing it within the top ten of the biggest cargo airports in Europe.

“As a result of our work with a number of big, multinational customers, the airport managed to handle over 660,000 tonnes of cargo in 2016 alone,” begins Liege Airport’s Chief Executive Officer, Luc Partoune. “The main customer of ours is FedEx, who we have been serving since they acquired the TNT brand, which had established Liège as its European hub 15 years ago, who represent around 50 per cent of the total traffic that runs through the airport. In addition, we have also worked hard to turn Liege Airport into a hub for the cargo activities of airlines such as Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Icelandair Cargo and CAL Cargo Air Lines.”

While cargo may be at the heart of Liege Airport’s activities, it has also developed the infrastructure necessary to allow it to serve more than 20 different destinations for passengers, primarily through the welcoming of charters. “At present, we cater for approximately 400,000 passengers passing through the airport on an annual basis,” Luc continues. “Among these passengers are holiday passengers taking in destinations across the Mediterranean, but we also cater for a very unique market, which comes in the form of charter flights from China.

“We connect between China to Liège between four and six times a week during the high season, with charter flights arriving from many of the country’s so-called ‘second tier cities’ bringing visitors to Europe to visit all the major tourist destinations. We are the only airport in Europe to cater for these charter flights and, by working with the Chinese tour consultant Utour, we have developed a tailormade solution for these visitors which has included hiring Chinese staff and translators. At present our Chinese visitors number around 100,000 per year, but we fully expect this to grow rapidly as tourist activity grows in popularity in China and we see more of the country’s cities take up chartering activities.”

Away from its purely air traffic related activities, Liege Airport also owns and operates considerable real estate space around the airport’s grounds, on which it is able to facilitate the building and running ofoffices, warehouse space, and other pieces of logistics and distribution infrastructure to both airline operators and other associated businesses that are keen to establish a presence in the region. One of Liege Airport’s aims is further the development of its airport business park. At present the park is home to more than 20,000 square metres of office and warehousing space, with plans for this to multiply three times over within the next five years.

“Our most recent data shows that Liege Airport is experiencing growth of five per cent, year-on-year,” Luc states. “We have achieved this by attracting new customers on a regular basis. These include our newest customer, NAF, an African airline connecting Liège to more than 15 destinations in Africa. We have also continued to diversify our offering, making the airport the perfect place to cater for various types of cargo, from fragile perishable goods all the way to horses and grooms, the latter of which we provide dedicated transport and accommodation to in the form of our Horse Inn equestrian hotel. The Horse Inn offers 55 fully equipped boxes, specially designed flooring and access ramps, a control and healthcare area, and veterinary services upon request.”

All around the airport there is some form of evidence of the growth and expansion that Luc speaks of. In addition, there are plans in place to create more space for aircraft, with the apron being increased over the next three years to accommodate a further ten positions for 747-sized aircraft. This will occur alongside the building of a new 20,000 square metre warehouse in anticipation of the arrival of new customers.

“For varying reasons, we are seeing a growing pattern where more and moreairports in Europe are limiting their own cargo freight activities, something which is certainly not the case here at Liege Airport,” Luc concludes. “We continue to give the utmost priority to our cargo activities, andit is our expertise and flexibility in handling these that has seen us recognised as one of the best airports in Europe in our field. It is this flexibility, together with our ability to deliver quick, reliable service, that has led to the airport acquiring the brand name of The Flexport, a moniker that certainly captures all that make this airport so special.”

Liege Airport s.a.
1800 tonnes of freight handled per day
90 flights arriving every night
Over 300 hectares of land in the airport’s vicinity