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AMSTERDAM: Des Vertannes, former head of cargo for IATA, is the recipient of the 2014 Martin Schröder air cargo award.

The Netherlands prize was established last year to honour individuals who have shown particular entrepreneurial qualities in the airfreight industry. Vertannes, who retired from IATA in June, was recognized by the award jury for his determination to build consensus among the sector's various stakeholders.

In presenting the award, Martinair founder J.Martin Schröder suggested there is still a role for the company he began in 1958 and currently the subject of downsizing - if not closure - by Air France-KLM.

J. Martin Schroder Martinair DC-9Pointing out that Martinair's business model had always been different to KLM, he said the carrier still has an "indispensable" role to play at Schiphol in order to ensure foreign carriers don't dominate the market.

Acknowledging the air cargo business is "particularly difficult" with the growing dominance of Gulf carriers, he suggested KLM management should "always remain optimistic rather than pessimistic". Citing Lufthansa Cargo's decision to spend "a few billion" in renewing its fleet, he said "you should be prepared like Lufthansa for the time when things get better – because they will".

Schroder added that Air France- KLM should not wait until the market picks up to acquire new cargo aircraft "because then you're just too late".*

In September this year Erik Varwijk, head of the Air France KLM Martinair cargo unit, announced the disposal of Martinair's five ageing MD-11 freighters by 2016 in a bid to cut costs. He added the Franco-Dutch airline had every intention of retaining its position in the airfreight industry and predicted its cargo unit would breakeven by 2017 as a result of reduced freighter overheads and an increasing reliance on the belly capacity of B777 and A350 aircraft.

Schröder (right) founded 'Martin's Air Charter'/'Martinair Holland' based on multiple business lines – passenger charters for the then expanding Dutch inclusive tour market; worldwide ad hoc cargo charters; "supplemental" flying for scheduled airlines - including KLM – pilot training and catering.

As a result he always maintained that if one piece of his business had a temporary drop, another would take up the slack. For well over 40 years he was right. While flying the same type of aircraft as KLM and its peers, the airline proved extremely flexible in optimizing a fleet that could rapidly switch from cargo or passenger configuration - it operated the world's first DC-10-30 convertible freighter.

Schröder makes the same point today: Martinair's business culture remains flexible and opportunity-driven. Apparently unlike Air France-KLM.

*Martin Schröder's comments first appeared in the Netherlands newspaper Nieuwsblad Transport.

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