Growing e-commerce and other trade between Asia and Central and Eastern Europe is becoming an increasingly significant factor in the continuing expansion of many leading Central European cargo gateways.
One of the main players in that context is Hungary’s Budapest Airport where recent moves have included the signing of a cooperation agreement relating to the development there of a distribution centre for Chinese goods, particularly e-commerce traffic.
The other parties in that venture, which was announced late last year, are Chinese logistics company STO Express, which plans to operate regular freighter flights into Budapest from China, and Turkey-headquartered intermodal freight service group Ekol which will handle the onward distribution of the goods across Europe.
Further evidence of Budapest’s growing importance as a gateway for Asian trade emerged earlier this year when Azerbaijani airline Silk Way West relaunched cargo flights into that airport after a gap of almost two years. The revived operation comprises twice-weekly Boeing 747-8 flights linking Budapest with Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
Wolfgang Meier, Silk Way West’s CEO, confirmed that growing e-commerce traffic was a key factor behind that service relaunch. “The demand for scheduled services to Eastern Europe has increased, which is, according to our opinion, due to the development of e-commerce and processing industry in the region.”
Other recent developments which highlight Budapest Airport’s growing Central European logistics gateway role – total annual air cargo traffic there was up more than 13% in 2017 to 127,000 tonnes and a new centralized air cargo handling facility is due to become operational in the first half of 2019 – include DHL Express opening a new 13,000-square-metre headquarters and warehousing/sortation facility in its business park.
DHL also features among recent developments at another leading Central European gateway, Vienna Airport in Austria. In March, the company announced that DHL Global Forwarding and DHL Freight had purchased nearby land for a joint 60,000-square-metre facility designed to “take on a key role as a freight hub for Eastern Europe in the future.” Work on that project is due to start shortly.
Vienna Airport has also this year seen further expansion of its Asian air service connections, with two major airlines increasing their flight schedules. Taiwanese carrier EVA Air upped its 777-300ER operation to/from Taipei from four times a week to daily in March, while Thai Airways was due in April to have increased its Vienna/Bangkok service from four flights a week to five, using 787-8 aircraft. Planned future developments include Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines starting a twice-weekly 787 operation from and to Shenzhen in October.
More generally as far as its gateway role is concerned, the Austrian airport, which last year saw total cargo traffic (air and truck) increase by just 2% to almost 288,000 tonnes, recently expanded its overall cargo-handling infrastructure through a 13,000-square-metre enlargement of its air cargo centre.
Again, growth in e-commerce business was cited as a factor behind that development, a point highlighted by Julian Jäger, member of the management board of airport operating company Flughafen Wien. Commenting on that gateway’s established “essential role” as a cargo transhipment centre, he stated: “Further growth (in that business) is expected in the years to come, especially due to the strong increase in e-commerce.”
Elsewhere in Central Europe, the logistics gateway role of Prague Airport in the Czech Republic was given a boost late last year when global forwarder Panalpina announced it was consolidating the company’s three warehouses in that country into one modern, near-7,000-square-metre, facility close to the airport.
“Moving to that strategic location allows Panalpina to distribute shipments to customers across Europe and the globe more efficiently, thus facilitating Czech exports,” claimed the forwarder.
Overall, Prague Airport − whose current regular Asian air service operators include Hainan Airlines (Beijing), Sichuan Airlines (Chengdu), Korean Air/Czech Airlines (Seoul) and China Eastern Airlines (Shanghai and Xi’an) − saw its total annual air cargo throughput jump by 15% last year to almost 82,000 tonnes.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic’s much larger neighbouring country, Poland, is set to see further major expansion of both its air and sea gateway capacity over the next few years.
In the case of the former, for example, there are plans to construct a totally new central international airport to replace Warsaw Chopin, currently the country’s biggest airport, which is expected to reach maximum capacity in 2020, with no room to expand.
In a statement issued late last year, the Polish government suggested preparatory work for the construction of the new airport at Baranów, about 40 kilometres from Warsaw, should be completed by 2019, with the opening scheduled for 2027. Current estimated cost of the project, including supporting rail and road infrastructure, is around US$8-9 billion.
The same government statement also highlighted the international hub/gateway potential of that new airport, specifically as far as passenger traffic was concerned but with similar implications for cargo flows.
“Our country is located at the intersection of routes between major metropolises such as Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, Vienna and Tokyo, Shanghai and Paris, New York and Tehran. The (new) central airport, thanks to its location, will be able to offer convenient connections to the Far East or North America,” it claimed.
Meanwhile, Poland’s leading two seaport gateways, Gdansk and Gdynia, are both planning major expansion of facilities and capacity over the next few years.
The Port of Gdansk, which handled almost 1.6 million TEUs in 2017, a 20% increase on the previous year, is already a significant gateway for Asian cargo, with listed regular weekly container shipping services from China, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, and recently announced plans to open a field office in Shanghai to further support its claim to be “the northern gateway to Europe for commodities from the Far East.”
Earlier this year, the port authority detailed a range of new construction work due to be implemented through to 2020, including the expansion of several inner port quays, the construction of new terminals and the modernization of supporting road and rail infrastructure, as part of what it claimed was the largest investment programme in the history of the Port of Gdansk.
Meanwhile, the Port of Gdynia, which last year handled almost 711,000 TEUs, nearly 11% up on 2016, is moving closer to implementing the key element of its development strategy through to 2030 – the construction of a new outer port. Currently, it is awaiting the completion of a wildlife inventory covering the area concerned.
The potential significance of the planned outer port development for Gdynia’s future role as a regional cargo gateway/transhipment centre was highlighted by Adam Meller, president of the Port of Gdynia Authority.
“The outer port is the greatest project in the history of the Port of Gdynia and is primarily aimed at increasing the transhipment potential and further reinforcing the competitive position of the port in the Baltic Sea region,” he said.
By Phil Hastings
Europe Correspondent | London