Liège Airport – plans with wings

Posted: 16 March 2005 | Luc Partoune Managing Director, Liège Airport | No comments yet

323 tonnes of freight handled in 1994 / 380,000 tonnes in 2004. These statistics illustrate the success of Liège Airport’s strategy and, according to Luc Partoune, Managing Director of Liège Airport, this is only the beginning; armed with a number of development plans management team SAB have set their sights on the top 5 European cargo airports.

323 tonnes of freight handled in 1994 / 380,000 tonnes in 2004. These statistics illustrate the success of Liège Airport’s strategy and, according to Luc Partoune, Managing Director of Liège Airport, this is only the beginning; armed with a number of development plans management team SAB have set their sights on the top 5 European cargo airports.

This regional airport, situated in the east of Belgium, gained a new management company in 1991 and a strategy that was original at the time – staking its whole development on full cargo. The advantages of this platform seemed particularly suited to this strategy; situated at the heart of the European golden freight transport triangle, close to a motorway interchange (to Berlin, Munich, Paris, London and Italy, etc), and at that time with vast unused space bordering its 3,287 metre runway.

The commercial team geared up, therefore, to meet a number of cargo operators and recorded its first success in 1996 when Cargo Air Lines, an Israeli company carrying flowers and perishable goods to Europe, made Liège its continental base. This illustrated another aspect of the airport’s strategy, which consisted of specialising in facilities for fresh and live products. The same year, a contract was signed with the express mail integrator, TNT, which opened its European hub at the airport in 1998. It was the beginning of the real take-off of Liège Airport. Close behind TNT’s decision came other well-known operators who chose to operate out of Liège: Icelandair, Emirates, China Southern and a host of others.

The development of Liège Airport was obviously noticed and in 1999, the Société des Aéroports de Paris (ADP) took 25% of the capital of the management company, SAB. The objective of this was to give SAB the benefit of ADP Management’s technical expertise, which was required because there were numerous extension plans, to carry out certain commercial operations in common, but above all to work together on an ambitious project; the creation of a TGV (High Speed Train) cargo link between Paris CDG and Liège.

Indeed, if SAB’s responsibility is above all to develop the airport, it also has a mission to turn the Liège region into a major multimodal hub. Less than three kilometres from the airport there is an industrial park occupied exclusively by logistics, and road and rail transport companies. This park called ‘Liège Logistics’ has a rail-road transfer platform connected to the Paris-Cologne line and is right alongside the TGV line.

Cargo minded

Most of the airport’s infrastructure was designed for cargo operations and it features storage warehouses, some with refrigeration facilities, a decompression chamber for security inspections and a completely new frontier inspection facility nicknamed the ‘flyin’ farm’, which handles live animals and animal products imported into the European Community. From its first year of operation, the flyin’ farm has processed 1,492 consignments of imported goods amounting to 5,602,963 Kgs, 33 consignments and 261,065 Kgs of goods in transit and 63 live animal shipments, including 380 calves, 219 horses and batches of fish for aquariums.

But the most important factor, is SAB’s desire to employ ‘cargo minded’ teams and services. Its whole staff are trained in the constraints and specific issues of the cargo business, including express mail. An indication of the level of service provision is that customs services are available 24 hours a day, as are the veterinary, phytosanitary and fire services.

Three companies are authorized to handle cargo at the airport: LACHS, a subsidiary of CAL, Swissport and TAYAS, a subsidiary of TNT. For its part, TNT has founded its own air company at Liège Airport, TNT Airways. A ground engine maintenance service and maintenance services for electrical and electro-mechanical equipment are provided by SAB. However the ethos is the same for all of these companies, provide the best possible service, as quickly as possible.

Installation of a wireless service

Since 2004 Liège Airport has benefited from a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) wireless communication system, the fruit of close collaboration with TNT. This new system, called ‘Mobiler’, allows the company to reduce the loading and unloading time of parcels into and out of planes significantly, thus increasing its productivity. TNT is the first express delivery company to install this technology for its runway operations.

Liège Airport is also using this system for communications and data transfer with its ground equipment and operators.


To date, Liège Airport has a main runway and a secondary runway. The airport’s facilities are located exclusively on the southern edge of the main runway. To the north there is a military base which will be moved in the next few years. By 2006, new parking for aircraft and new cargo hangers will be available in this area. In the long term, there will be positions for 26 B747-400s, 2 for A380s and 8 for general aircraft.

However, in the meantime, the main runway will be lengthened to 3,700 metres enabling large cargo aircraft to take off fully loaded and with a full load of fuel. The fuel infrastructure, with a capacity today of 1 million litres and connected to a NATO pipeline, will be brought up to 3 million litres within the same time frame.

All these investments are supported by the Société Wallonne des Aéroports, a para-regional company that owns 25% of SAB’s shares. In effect, the Region is making the development of its airports and the logistics and transport sector a long-term strategic priority. Liège Aiport therefore has the physical and technical capacity to double its activity, its objective for 2010, and which would put it in 5th place among Europe’s cargo airports.

Strengthening TNT’s position at Liège Airport

In March 2003, TNT announced its decision to invest in the doubling of its hub. This represents a staged development programme over ten years, which has already started and invovles an investment of 94 million euros. The aim is to increase parcel handling capacity, but above all to accelerate processing even more, with a minimum of 245 new employees.

This announcement confirmed TNT’s desire to have a long-term position at the Liège platform. Furthermore, TNT is participating in efforts to limit environmental damage by the progressive renewal of its fleet. It has just acquired a Boeing 737-300.

24 Hours

Liège Airport is open 24 hours a day, a decision taken by the Walloon Regional Government and confirmed by a recent judicial decision.

This option has been made possible by the implementation of a major programme to improve life for the people living near the airport. A Noise Exposure Plan has been drawn up that provides for the purchase of dwellings that are nearest to the airport, and the soundproofing of homes in other areas. To date, more than 1,000 dwellings have been bought.

Some of the areas in question have been transformed into business zones enabling new transport, logistics and related service companies to move into the area.

A new passenger terminal

Finally, even though the cargo business is clearly the priority for Liège Airport, a certain amount of passenger activity is also developing there. In 2004, 260,000 passengers used Liège Airport, mainly for charter flights. In April, SAB will inaugurate a new terminal with a capacity of one million passengers a year. A tool of very modern design that should attract new companies and new travel operators.

TGV cargo

SAB is a partner with ADP in the design of an innovative project: the creation of a TGV cargo link between Paris CDG and Liège Airport.

This idea is based on two findings: airports, above all international airports, risk long-term congestion, and ever stricter environmental constraints are forcing operators to look at alternatives to planes wherever possible. The TGV cargo project would have the advantage of replacing planes over distances of up to 500 km, and would also offer road haulage firms an alternative to lorries over certain routes. The effect on the environment would thus be beneficial and mobility improved.

This is still at the project stage, but some top level players are taking an interest in it, in addition to SAB and ADP, FEDEX, TNT, UPS, SNCF and SNCB are numbered among the study group’s contacts. To date, possible routes for the Liège Paris link have been identified. ADP is studying the constraints and availability in terms of rolling stock and containers with SNCF. A technical-commercial study will be launched in the next few weeks. If the project comes together, it will give a new dimension to the idea of multimodality based on rapid transport around airports.

Maybe the real future of cargo is being mapped out here?

Related airports

Related regions

Send this to a friend