April 23, 2014: Finnair opened its second European cargo hub in Brussels amid fanfare and high hopes in March 2013. Twelve months on, is the party over – or only just beginning?
Celebrations are definitely in order, at least if volumes are any indication, affirms Heikki Nikamaa, Finnair Cargo's manager for station & freighter operations.
"Our weekly freighter capacity is approximately 340 tonnes, and we are carrying more or less full loads both ways. Some weekends we have to use additional trucks because there is not enough space on flights."
Last year Finnair moved a total of over 15,000 tonnes via the Brussels hub. To accommodate growing volumes, Finnair Cargo has made significant capacity enhancements for the summer season. The Brussels hub will be served by two weekly MD11F freighter rotations from Helsinki on Fridays and Sundays, with returns from Brussels on Saturdays and Mondays. In addition, a weekly A340 passenger aircraft service is flown on Thursdays as well as four daily narrow-body flights connecting to Finnair's over 90 weekly flights between Helsinki and 13 Asian cargo gateways.
Yet, with the global economic crisis beleaguering the air cargo market, certain inevitable adjustments have had to be made to the offered network – all part of the learning process that comes with opening a new route network.
"Profitability has to be taken into consideration. Finding the right mix and focus on niche products is essential," explains Gina Vandenhove, country manager of ATC Aviation Services, Finnair's Global Sales Agent in Belgium.
Cool to care
The obvious niche for Finnair Cargo is pharmaceuticals. "For Brussels, pharmaceuticals are on the way to becoming what flowers are for Holland, or car parts for Germany. But, given the fragility of the product, only the very best carriers will be awarded the business," says Vandenhove.
Winning this business comes with particular challenges, principally related to cool chain management and guaranteed temperature control. "And we're not just talking about the usual perishables needing a fridge. The most challenging goods require a steady temperature of 15–25 degrees," she notes.
Finnair Cargo is making continual improvements to its "Cool to Care" product with the goal of opening further new trade lanes for temperature-controlled cargo between Brussels and major Asian airports.
"It looks like we're on the right track. Month after month we seem to win more traffic from ruling pharmaceutical producers. It shows that our hard work is finally paying off."
One of the welcome changes of the past year is the speedier service offered by Finnair now that customs is available 24/7 at Brussels airport.
"When we started out, the local customs was closed during the weekends. After negotiations with the airport, they agreed to open nonstop customs service for us. It made a huge improvement to our service," says Nikamaa.
With summer approaching and volumes picking up, Nikamaa is optimistic regarding the future of the hub. "Europe is on a good track and we definitely need Brussels to continue building our position."
Vandenhove points out that one year is a short time for Finnair to prove its staying power, particularly with the local market keeping an ever-watchful eye on newcomers and the quality they offer.
"Of course we did have the luck of already having a consistent base load – a serious advantage – but over the past year, I believe we have grown into a solid player with a strong network. Meanwhile, we also made further progress by adding wide-body capacity, with more likely to come. The coming year will be about consolidating what we have started."