"Appetites are returning"
Edouard Mathieu, who has worked for the operator of the Parisian airports since 1999, expects unrequited interest in exotic destinations and a gradual end to travel restrictions in summer to result in passenger volumes returning to around 60% of their pre-pandemic levels. ITJ editor Andreas Haug found out what this means for co-loading at an airport with an pronounced focus on airfreight.
Mr Mathieu, your great experience of the air cargo segment makes you particularly qualified to give us an assessment of the crisis we’ve now faced for 16 months.
We’re just starting to leave a special chapter in the history of aviation behind us. The shock came in March 2020, when a whole series of ‘inessential’ sectors were closed down at short notice. The airfreight segment suffered least during the downturn. The pharmaceuticals supply chain, with the handling of PPE, was in great demand. In Paris we handled 2 billion face masks in just a few months.
Then social distancing and contact restrictions kicked in, and e-commerce bene-
fited. From summer 2020 onwards we noticed a rise in exports, including luxury goods flown to Asia and the USA. We struggled on account of a lack of belly-hold capacities; and we benefited, in contrast, from the fact that Paris Charles de Gaulle airport has the best connectivity of any European gateway.
Can you give us detailed figures?
Our freight volume declined by no less than 10 – 15% vis-à-vis 2019, and came to 1.64 million t. We’re satisfied with that, however, as the situation was far worse elsewhere. Tonnage doesn’t always tell the whole story, after all.
What are the reasons underlying this relatively ‘good’ result?
All of the players involved did their bit. The airlines were extremely agile. Many of our customers adjusted their offerings passenger units used as ‘ pure freighters’ – including Qatar Airways, with services to and from the Persian Gulf; Korean Air and Air China, to and from Asia; and Air Algérie and Turkish Airlines, which serve our traditional freight markets; to name but a few.
The ground-based supply chain also proved rather resilient. Not many of the our airport’s 17,000 direct jobs were affected by shorter working hours. The local freight community is very dynamic and now cooperates even more closely.
What situation do your hubs find themselves in now, a year later?
We’re in a transitional phase. The good news is that airlines are gearing up their fleets for the return to fully-fledged business. We’ve seen freight activities at Roissy airport return to pre-pandemic levels since the beginning of June. This reflects one of CDG’s unique characteristics. We were ready when the crisis hit, because we see freight as a substantial component of the aviation industry. It’s erroneous to believe a true hub can work without freight!
What does the future depend on?
Around one third of the local freight activities aren’t handled in Paris. We have the means to change this.
How would you do that?
CDG has four runways with no restrictions. Our infrastructure is geared completely to attracting greater volumes. Our airport has Europe’s largest freight zone; it covers no less than approximately 700 000 m2 and offers 80 aeroplanes direct access to the runways.
What have you got against full-freighters?
Nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact –we have to fill the bellies of our passenger planes, where business is now returning, even better. This improves international connectivity and – we learnt this in the downturn – justifies the use of aeroplanes as a mode of transport. I’m optimistic for 2021 and beyond.