Zurich, Cologne and Leipzig: Supplying Europe
Swiss aviation journalists recently flew across much of Central Europe, taking a close look at three airports in two days in the process. The trip focused on the strategies pursued by each of the gateways, in or close to Europe’s huge but vaguely-defined ‘blue banana’.
Let’s start out with the hubs’ similarities. Leipzig / Halle, Cologne / Bonn and Zurich airports have one thing in common – they all rank amongst the largest airfreight gateways in Europe; ranked 6th, 9th and 13th respectively (see page 13 of ITJ 9-10 / 2019). But how did they get where they stand today, and what role does freight play in their business activities?
Zurich (ZRH) – not a core activity
Michael Sack, Zurich’s cargo boss, has worked for Zurich airport for 25 years; he has no illusions. “It is and it isn’t one of our core fields of activity.” Switzerland’s largest airport, one of the Lufthansa Group’s hubs, primarily serves passengers.
99% of all airfreight handled there is carried as co-loaded cargo on passenger planes. In 2018, the hub reported a throughput of 493,000 t, but this figure also includes RFS volumes of about 26%, on account of one of the Swiss statistics idiosyncrasies. This also accounts for the fact that Cargolux is ranked as one of the largest local airfreight providers, even though it does not operate scheduled full-freighter flights to ZRH; it only trucks goods to Zurich.
Without freight most flights in Zurich would not be profitable, however, because said co-loaded capacities contribute approximately 20% to a flight’s profitability. Swiss, the market leader that is adding Washington and Osaka to its network next year, illustrates how important the predicted cargo load factor is when it comes to the criteria for adding new destinations.
The flag carrier’s cargo load factor comes to 78% – quite high for the industry. This shows that the airfreight activities of its specialist division, Swiss WorldCargo, are definitely a key pillar of the airline’s business. “We transport more than 600,000 consignments a year; 95% of these are routed via Zurich,” head of quality and services Christian Wyss confirms. It is all trucked or co-loaded on passenger planes. The carrier’s largest, the Boeing B777, is almost a full-freighter with its 24.5 t capacity.
The hub handled 352 cargo flights in 2018. The fact that Korean Air is moving from Basel to Zurich airport this year is not particularly due to the airport’s efforts, Sack pointed out to the ITJ; ZRH has no further ambitions in this context.
Cologne / Bonn (CGN) – a freight-driven airport
At Cologne / Bonn airport, located at the heart of one of Europe’s strongest foreign trade regions, the approach to the segment is completely different. “40% of the EU’s GDP is generated in a 500 km radius of CGN,” according to general cargo director Torsten Wefers, who has worked for the airport since 2003. He took charge of its freight activities in 2018.
CGN is 100% publicly owned. Its closest competitors are national neighbours Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. The gateway focused its attention on the freight business as early as the 1980s. It is far more important to the hub than the passenger segment, which has its main strengths in the LCC segment. CGN was Germany’s No. 3 airfreight centre last year, handling approximately 860,000 t of cargo.
Belly freight at CGN accounts for a mere 1%; this summer the airport welcomed around 600 weekly freighter flights, 70% of which saw wide-body aircraft deployed. Last winter’s peak season saw the gateway increase activity to 130 movements a day – one of the results of the booming online trade segment.
In fact, the integrators have long been the main players on the river Rhine. UPS commands the largest market share and operates its European hub there; FedEx started business there in 2010; DHL is also present, but is not as strong as the provider could be.
Leipzig / Halle (LEJ) – German unification’s success story
DHL’s request in 2008 for more space and another intercontinental runway at CGN could not be met, so it migrated east across the country and established its largest hub worldwide at Leipzig / Halle airport. LEJ has many other freighter operators; they generate an annual volume of around 1.22 million t. Its passenger services, in contrast, are limited to a 250 km radius.
“Although we’re the fastest-growing hub in Europe, we can still improve,” said a confident head of communications Uwe Schuhart, who arrived at LEJ in 1995 as a student trainee.