KLM Cargo amplified its focus on the e-commerce sector with the installation of a new sorting system at its Amsterdam hub. The facility can handle over 2,000 items in an hour, the type of capacity that is usually associated with integrators’ express parcel hubs than pallets and containers of freight.
According to the airline, the sorter, which was developed in cooperation with Lödige Industries and Vanderlande, allows for faster handling of all post, express and pharmaceutical consignments.
“E-commerce is a fast-growing branch in the cargo industry. This innovative system allows us to keep pace with the rapid increase in post and express consignments. The system is faster and smarter, allowing us to offer better services to our customers,” said Marcel de Nooijer, executive vice president of KLM Cargo.
Sister carrier Air France Cargo implemented a similar system at its hub in Paris two years ago in tandem with express partners Sodexi and GeoPost. The €22 million (US$26.1 million) facility can sort 6,000 parcels in an hour.
The new set up in Amsterdam is a modified version, owing to lack of space. KLM had to demolish part of one of its three cargo buildings at the airport to make room for the new sorting hub.
The sorter ties in with the carrier’s move to utilize its European network of narrowbody passenger aircraft for e-commerce parcels and other priority traffic. It teamed up with Parcel International and Amsterdam Schiphol airport to create 12send, a same-day intra-Europe service utilizing KLM’s network and the baggage handling system of Schiphol airport. Initial trials ran last year on the Amsterdam-Barcelona route. Parcel International, which operates the first and last mile of the service, intends to have 20 European points covered by 12send in the coming years.
A few carriers, such as China Southern Cargo, have developed special services for e-commerce, but for the most part, airlines have adopted a wait-and-see stance vis-à-vis e-commerce, looking instead to forwarders and postal agencies to come up with services.
For Air France KLM, which has struggled in the cargo business in recent years, the focus on e-commerce is part of a strategic repositioning that has seen the combined airline whittle down its freighter fleet and try to concentrate on segments of the business that promise high growth and/or better yields requiring premium services. Besides e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, perishables and live animal transport have been key planks of this strategy.
Schiphol airport has also homed in increasingly on high-growth, high-yield traffic. In May, the airport authority introduced its Compliance Checker, an online tool intended to speed up cargo flows by detecting data errors and customers compliance errors in air waybills. According to a spokesperson, this will help boost e-commerce flows through the airport.
Increasingly, the airport and KLM work together in partnership with Dutch authorities including Customs and other institutions to offer solutions designed to attract traffic to Amsterdam. Under the Smart Cargo Mainport umbrella programme last year, they ran a pilot scheme for cargo from Frankfurt catching flights departing from Amsterdam in an effort to speed up data flow and to prioritize the handling of shipments according to their scheduled departure time.
Another major joint initiative is the Holland Flower Alliance established last year in partnership with the flower auction at Aalsmeer and companies involved in the flower trade, which aims to cement Schiphol’s status as the primary gateway for flower traffic through a combination of improved processes, smoother flows and research into cold chain and packaging as well as joint lobbying efforts.
According to a Schiphol spokseperson, the community has also secured a grant for €1 million (US$1.2 million) to start development of a pharma incursion alerter, an early warning system for pharmaceuticals shippers, and is currently planning a pilot scheme for this.
By Ian Putzger
Air Freight Correspondent | Toronto