Ostend-Bruges Airport

“Ostend-Bruges Airport: A Rising Star in European Air Cargo” Ostend-Bruges Airport, nestled on Belgium’s North Sea coast, emerges as a formidable player in Europe’s air cargo domain. With a 24/7 operational capability and a revamped 3200-meter runway, it stands ready to accommodate heavyweight aircraft, facilitating seamless cargo operations. The airport’s strategic location, merely 25km from the French border and with proximity to major European ports, renders it a pivotal hub for freight movement. A standout feature is its Cargo Village project, showcasing state-of-the-art warehousing facilities to meet evolving industry demands.

Leveraging digital cargo tools for streamlined operations and prioritizing sustainability, Ostend-Bruges Airport is poised for exponential growth. Propelled by partnerships and strategic collaborations, the airport aims to carve a niche in the competitive air freight market. With a vision to double its cargo tonnage by 2026 and ambitious plans for expansion, Ostend-Bruges Airport emerges as a beacon of efficiency and innovation in Europe’s air cargo landscape.

Unveiling Ostend-Bruges Airport

We started the interview by asking, “Can you introduce Ostend-Bruges Airport to our readers, particularly focusing on its capabilities and facilities as a cargo airport?”

Eric Dumas replied, “Ostend-Bruges Airport is a cargo airport located in Belgium on the North Sea coast, just 25km from the French border and 40km from the Dutch border. It is open and operational H24 and has a 3200-metre runway that was completely renovated at the beginning of this year. This category 4E runway can accommodate all the heaviest types of aircraft, including B747s, Antonov 124s and B777s, with a permanent level 9 fire safety system. The customs service is also present 24 hours a day and applies the same rules here as at other Belgian airports such as Liège or Brussels.

The capacity of its apron means that it can simultaneously handle 10 wide-body aircraft spread over the 2 aprons reserved for freight handling. Goods are handled in several warehouses totaling over 20,000 m2 directly linked to the apron. The airport is equipped with temperature-controlled premises for perishable goods, which are now one of the airport’s strong points (fruit and vegetables, pharmaceutical products). Our facilities also include stables for horses.”

Strategic Challenges and Solutions

Business Magazine UAE: Ostend-Bruges Airport is often overshadowed by more prominent Belgian airports like Liege and Brussels when it comes to cargo operations. What do you believe is the main reason behind this lack of notoriety, and how are you addressing it?

Eric Dumas replied, “When it comes to freight, even more so than for passengers, competition between airports is fierce and commercial strategies ever more aggressive. The reason for this is the high volatility of freight customers, who can be trucked to any airport, which is more difficult with passengers more inclined to prefer the airport closest to their home. In this context, the resources allocated to commercial actions are decisive. Because of their size, and for some of them far greater public subsidies, the financial and human resources allocated by our competitors to commercial canvassing are out of all proportion to ours. You only have to look at the names that appear at the head of the list of sponsors at the many air freight shows, forums and symposia around the world to realise that it’s always the same names that appear, all to “occupy the field” at all costs. This advertising hype, justified in the name of commercial aggressiveness, is a boon for event organizers, who see in these regular sponsors an almost guaranteed income every year. While this over-exposure undoubtedly benefits these airports, it also reduces the visibility of freight operators in terms of the range of destination airports available to them. The result is a ‘mass effect’ where customers rush to ‘the place to be’ without taking the time to compare, a bit like those restaurants where crowds attract crowds while the neighboring restaurants, despite sometimes better quality service and products, remain hopelessly empty. I am convinced that regional airports can offer freight operators advantageous solutions in terms of ease and speed of operation.

At Ostend-Bruges, we have made different choices because we don’t have the same human and financial resources. We prefer to allocate our resources to improving the quality of service for our customers and maintain a reasonable commercial policy focused on the efficient and profitable alternative that Ostend-Bruges Airport represents compared with the ‘big ones’ for freight operators. Preferring quality to volume, we strive to convince our potential customers on the basis of our results in terms of operational efficiency and customer satisfaction rather than costly commercial and media omnipresence. Our customers’ satisfaction remains our priority, and they are unanimous in underlining the quality of our operational performance. Their loyalty reinforces our approach. We don’t need to hunt on our neighbor’s turf, but we know that our focus on our customers is already attracting the attention of those disappointed by mass airports.”

Setting a New Standard

Business Magazine UAE: What are the unique advantages of Ostend-Bruges Airport that you believe make it an efficient and profitable alternative for air freight operators, freight forwarders, and e-commerce actors?

Eric Dumas replied, “We have a number of strengths, such as our 24/7 operational efficiency and the speed of our ground operations. At Ostend airport, goods arriving by plane leave the airport on trucks even before the plane that delivered them has had time to take off again. We’re one of the best at handling freight so quickly, which is vital for operators of perishable freight and ‘just in time delivery’ in the automotive industry, who are turning to us today. What we know how to do for urgent freight, we also know how to do for e-commerce, which also attaches great importance to speed of delivery to the end customer. In this respect, we have all the experience needed to ensure that our customers benefit from the adage “time is money”. This operational excellence is underpinned by the professionalism of our handlers, the care we take in organizing our operations and the traffic-free motorway network serving the airport, which sets us apart from the Brussels region in particular.

Another unique advantage is our proximity to the UK by road, as Ostend-Bruges is less than an hour’s drive from the Channel Tunnel at Calais (France). This proximity, coupled with our operational efficiency, means that using our airport is often more advantageous than using UK airports, both in terms of cost and delivery time to the end customer. For a medium-sized operator wishing to establish itself in Europe, Ostend-Bruges is the ideal location to serve both continental Europe and the UK, resulting in significant savings in the means and resources to be allocated for optimum operational results.

Finally, Ostend-Bruges airport is located on the coast, which naturally brings it closer to the major ports of Northern Europe, in particular Zeebrugge (35 minutes), Antwerp (1h30) and Rotterdam (2h30). This position opens up interesting prospects in terms of synergies and intermodality. 

Finally, we have considerable development potential, with more than 140 hectares available for new freight infrastructure.”

Strategic Positioning

Business Magazine UAE: Could you discuss the strategic importance of Ostend-Bruges Airport’s location in Europe and how it can serve as a pivotal freight hub on the continent?

Eric Dumas replied, “If Belgium’s airports are so successful, it’s mainly due to the country’s location at the heart of Europe and at the center of the famous ‘blue banana’, which accounts for most of the European market. Ostend-Bruges is an integral part of this area, with two significant additional advantages: its proximity to the UK, France and the Netherlands (see above) and its location outside the main road congestion zones; and the wealth of the Flemish Region, at the heart of which the airport is located, which alone accounts for 81% of Belgian exports, making it the 9th largest exporting region in the world. No other freight airport in Belgium combines these 2 qualities.

This location means that Ostend-Bruges Airport is ideally placed to handle freight to and from the whole of Europe at a time when the major freight hubs are being relocated and there is a clear trend towards reducing cargo flights at certain major airports such as Amsterdam. With its available capacity, considerable land reserves and flexibility of use, Ostend-Bruges is an ideal alternative for relocating freight flights from major airports wishing to refocus on passenger activity.”

Strategic Positioning

Business Magazine UAE: What specific investments or improvements have been made at Ostend-Bruges Airport to enhance its cargo handling capabilities and efficiency?

Eric Dumas replied, “Ostend-Bruges Airport has embarked on a new investment drive with the aim of becoming one of Europe’s top 20 cargo airports by 2030. To achieve this, the airport is relying on a 140-hectare land reserve directly connected to the runway and on private and public investors to significantly expand and improve its infrastructure. The Cargo Village project is the flagship of this strategy, with the first phase of construction of 3 new freight warehouses, each with a total surface area of 16,000 m2. To demonstrate to industry professionals that this project is more than just a declaration of intent, the first of these warehouses has already been built and has just been completed; ready to be rented out to one or more end users. Located directly on the apron and runway, this €13m investment was financed by our partner Versluys Logistic, which is responsible for marketing the building, which comprises 8,500m2 of warehouse space plus 3,310m2 of airside canopy, both 11.5 meters high. In addition, there is 1,150m2 of office space and/or mezzanine storage for sensitive materials. Surrounded by a vast truck parking area and equipped with 22 truck loading bays, it is pre-equipped to accommodate all the freight handling equipment that may be installed by the building operator. Two other warehouses of the same size will be built in less than 1 year in line with the first as soon as their occupiers have placed an order for them. Reactivity to the market is almost immediate. At the end of this first phase, two other phases will be launched depending on market expectations.

Another essential investment for our business is the €21m that the Flemish Region has invested in the 3,200-metre runway in February – March 2024 to completely renovate it and its lighting system. In addition, the airport has taken charge of the adaptations needed to use the runway and taxiways for the latest generation of cargo aircraft, such as the latest Boeing 777X, which will enter service in 2025. In terms of landing aids, this work will be used to enable the airport to switch to a category III approach in the very near future, which will make it more reliable to use in poor weather conditions.”

Embracing Innovation

Business Magazine UAE: How does Ostend-Bruges Airport plan to leverage technology and innovation to streamline cargo operations and stay ahead in the competitive air freight market?

Eric Dumas replied, “Once again, Ostend-Bruges Airport has invested in a digital cargo tool to speed up operations and move towards paperless administrative and customs formalities. This application, entitled “Ostend – Cloud”, was deployed in 2023 with our partner Nallian and streamlines the import and export process. Through proactive communication and intelligent data sharing, operators eliminate waiting times at ground handlers’ facilities, reduce paperwork and administration, and ensure faster customer clearance and VAT recovery. 

A number of modules are being progressively deployed to gain visibility of who is picking up or dropping off goods at warehouses, plan actions efficiently and reduce administration, and improve operational performance through paperless (pre-) registration, slot booking and sharing of freight details. 

Another module facilitates the execution of acceptance and compliance checks (pharma, DGR, perishables, damage, equipment maintenance, etc.), streamlining the process from data capture to real-time tracking and tracing, including communication and reporting. With the inspection management solution, operators streamline the coordination of all actions and the sharing of documents and certificates linked to the inspection process for imported perishable goods. 

Finally, truck drivers have access via the same application to all the information concerning the slots allocated to them, and record the associated actions and information in real time.”

Towards Greener Skies

Business Magazine UAE: Sustainability is a growing concern in the aviation industry. What measures is Ostend-Bruges Airport taking to ensure environmentally friendly cargo operations?

Eric Dumas replied, “Driven by the strategy of our sole shareholder, the French group EGIS, Ostend-Bruges Airport has made climate change and the energy transition a key part of its policy. As such, Ostend Airport aims to set an example in this area and, from 2021, has launched a call for tenders with the aim of exploiting its land holdings to produce its own renewable energy from photovoltaic panels and enable the airport to be supplied entirely with green electricity. The contract was awarded to the Belgian company EnergyVision, which from this year onwards will be deploying the second largest photovoltaic array in Belgium at our airport, producing 35.8 GWh per year and saving 8,250 tonnes of CO2 per year. 

The airport’s ambition is also to support the industry in decarbonizing aircraft propulsion systems. Our photovoltaic power plant project will provide green electricity recharging points for electric aircraft, the first of which are already being used in some flight schools. We also plan to rapidly distribute the future Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and in a second phase, and especially when the technology allows it, the storage and distribution of hydrogen. 

Ostend-Bruges Airport is also part of the Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) programme run by Airport Council International (ACI). This programme awards a label from 1 to 5 to airports according to their level of carbon footprint reduction. On the verge of being awarded level 2 status, this photovoltaic production project will enable the airport to quickly reach level 3+, which corresponds to carbon neutrality. 

Finally, the airport is about to renew its environmental permit with the Flemish authorities, which will enable it to continue its operations within a defined framework of environmental preservation and impact control. In addition to CO2 emissions, all the other environmental components have been addressed in this renewal application, including noise, air quality, water and biodiversity, in order to guarantee the reality of our actions and our exemplary nature.”

Charting Air Freight Trends

Business Magazine UAE: Can you share insights into the current trends in the air freight industry and how Ostend-Bruges Airport is positioning itself to capitalize on these trends?

Eric Dumas replied, “Despite global economic fluctuations and environmental pressures, demand for air freight continues to grow, fuelled by e-commerce, the need for rapid delivery and the expansion of international markets. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a sharp increase in online orders that cannot be delivered to the end customer by sea within an acceptable timeframe. In addition, the pandemic has highlighted the usefulness of air freight in getting medical and pharmaceutical products quickly to areas of the world where they were previously unavailable. It is therefore the growth in cross-border e-commerce that is driving demand for air freight to transport goods quickly and reliably between continents. Companies are looking to reduce delivery times to remain competitive in the global marketplace. To achieve this, technological advances such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are increasingly being used in the air freight sector to optimize operations, improve shipment visibility and enhance security.

However, against a backdrop of growing environmental awareness, the air freight sector is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. Airlines, freight forwarders and airports are looking to invest in more fuel-efficient technologies and explore alternative, more sustainable fuels.

Cargo airlines and governments are investing in the development of new air routes and improved airport infrastructure to meet the growing demand for air freight and optimize operations.

These trends are shaping the future of the air freight sector, which remains a crucial part of the global supply chain. 

Against this backdrop, Ostend-Bruges Airport is responding to the market trend by offering new capacity and a genuine green field for freight operators looking to set up logistics operations in Europe. Our Cargo Village project offers opportunities that are almost unrivalled in Europe, with more than 140 hectares of tailor-made development land, directly linked to the runway that can be used to build up to 700,000 m2 of freight warehouses. With a project like this, Ostend-Bruges is truly the airport of the future for air freight in Europe, especially as it is keeping pace with all the other trends in the market with the increasing digitalization of operations and a strong focus on its environmental impact as part of the issuing of its new operating permit.”

Elevating E-Commerce Logistics

Business Magazine UAE: What role do you see Ostend-Bruges Airport playing in the global supply chain, particularly in relation to e-commerce growth?

Eric Dumas replied, “Ostend-Bruges already meets the 3 requirements of urgent freight, whether it comes from e-commerce or the transport of perishable goods: flexibility of use 24/7, extremely short operational times and optimised connections with the motorway network of continental Europe and even the United Kingdom thanks to our proximity to the Channel Tunnel, located less than an hour’s drive away. These 3 requirements are the key success factors that urgent freight operators are looking for in order to optimise their operations and delivery times, and Ostend-Bruges already meets them with unrivalled efficiency. 

I am therefore convinced that Ostend-Bruges will rapidly become a hub for a number of e-commerce operators, as it already is for our first customer Egyptair, which has placed its trust in us for over 30 years for the handling of perishable goods. These two types of freight have many similarities in terms of handling: fragility, urgency of shipment, high added value (pharmaceuticals, e-commerce).”

Forging Strategic Alliances

Business Magazine UAE: Partnerships can be crucial in the aviation sector. Is there any strategic collaboration that Ostend-Bruges Airport is pursuing or planning to enhance its cargo operations?

Eric Dumas replied, “Ostend-Bruges airport is part of a network of 20 airports operated by the French group EGIS, including Abidjan, Brazzaville, Tahiti, Paphos, Larnaca, Pau and Bergerac. The network enables us to meet regularly to share best practices, develop common strategies and improve our knowledge of different markets. Some of these airports are located in Africa, such as Abidjan and Brazzaville, which have significant freight activities, as does Larnaca airport in Cyprus. Partnerships are being developed with these airports to offer freight operators integrated point-to-point solutions with advantageous conditions on both ends of the link. 

Similarly, we have chosen not to invest directly in the development of our freight infrastructure and have entrusted this role to an Ostend-based project developer, Versluys Logistic, which is financing, building and marketing the new warehouses for the Cargo Village project. This partnership allows us to join forces in the marketing of warehouses, which directly benefits the airport’s traffic growth. In this context, we are in advanced discussions with several European, Chinese, African and Middle Eastern operators, who are all interested in the opportunities offered by this project. I am therefore resolutely confident in our ability to forge other partnerships in the near future.”

Future Outlook

Business Magazine UAE: How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

Eric Dumas replied, “By 2026, Ostend-Bruges Airport will have made significant progress towards its goal of becoming one of Europe’s top 20 cargo airports by 2030. We expect to have doubled our freight tonnage compared with 2023, and the last two warehouses in the first phase of our Cargo Village project will be nearing completion. This will mean that almost 48,000 m2 of brand new warehouses will be in operation or about to come on stream. The direct, indirect and induced jobs created by the development of the airport’s freight activity will have grown considerably and will benefit the whole of West Flanders, whose attractiveness and economy will be boosted. Our commercial efforts and the maintenance of our service quality at the highest level will have won over many freight operators, making Ostend-Bruges the new “place to be”. We will then be ready to embark on the second phase of the cargo village project, which includes 50,000 m2 of additional 1st and 2nd line warehousing specially adapted for e-commerce operators.”

Attracting Freight Operators

Lastly we asked, “Facing competition from other airports, how does Ostend-Bruges Airport plan to attract more freight operators and secure a larger share of the market?”

In a context of fierce competition between airports, Ostend-Bruges will endeavor to maintain the three values that are its strength and its specificity: its quality of service, its operational capacity and its flexibility of use. Our capacity to absorb significant growth in air freight and our ability to handle night flights while respecting our environmental permit will be the major differentiating factor in our competitive positioning. At a time when many major airports such as Amsterdam, Heathrow, Frankfurt and Zurich are drastically reducing night flights and, in some cases, freight flights, Ostend-Bruges is the ideal alternative for relocating operators looking for flexibility and connectivity with Europe.” Eric Dumas concluded

Connect with
Eric Dumas on Linkedin

Ostend-Bruges Airport to learn more

Also Read:

Delivering Innovative Hotel Management Solutions Globally: iNPLASS

Delivering Competitive Solutions To Challenges Of the Food Industry With Etadar By Deiman: Juan José Thuemme

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.