BRU has first decline in cargo volume in months, which strike may worsen

  • Nina Chamlou
  • February 8, 2019
  • EMEA

Today, Brussels Airport (BRU) released its January traffic results, in which volume decreased by 3.2 percent to about 55,000 tonnes, year-over-year. Meanwhile, a planned national strike to affect all of Belgium next week may exacerbate the slowdown.

BRU has been gaining steam in its cargo efforts over the last few years, establishing itself as an alternative to Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), its freight hub neighbor to the north, which has notoriously become overly congested with traffic. But this is “the first time in months” that the airport’s cargo division has recorded “a slightly negative growth,” BRU said.

The airport suggested that declines are on trend with the market, referencing declines in cargo traffic observable in other European airports in the final months of 2018. It is true that Vienna (VIE) and London Heathrow (LHR) both saw negative growth in December, y-o-y, of about 4 and 8 percent respectively, but other regional hubs like AMS, Budapest (BUD) and Frankfurt (FRA) scraped by with marginal increases during the month.

Breaking BRU’s January cargo snapshot down by volume from full freighter, belly and integrator modes, however, the results are mixed. Full-freighter volumes decreased by a significant 17 percent y-o-y, and traffic from integrators decreased by 5 percent, y-o-y, but conversely, belly cargo increased almost 9 percent, y-o-y.

BRU said that the decrease in volume is due to a combination of factors, namely that “certain airlines cut back their flights,” and that the weight of cargo being carried by express operators has been lightening in recent months.  “E-commerce is increasing,” the airport explained, but the products being shipped “have a lighter weight than traditional cargo.” However, the latter suggestion would have a greater  effect on BRU’s integrator volumes than on the 17 percent decline it saw in its freighter traffic.

Meanwhile, Brussels Airlines – a mover of belly cargo at the hub – tweeted yesterday that it expects flight delays at BRU in anticipation of national strikes in Belgium that are scheduled to take place on Feb. 13 and will affect the private transportation sector. In an update today, the carrier cancelled the remaining 72 flights originally planned on the day of the strike, totaling 222 flights, stating that it “now considers it very probable that operations at Brussels Airport will be severely impacted due to industrial action of various airport stakeholders.”

This will likely affect BRU’s February volumes negatively to some degree – at least in belly cargo – as a result.

Air Cargo Airports has yet to see any other major European airports release their January traffic results, but we will be watching to see if other hubs experienced similar backslides in freight volumes kicking off Q1 2019.