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Sky-high digital ambitions for the logistics industry: meet Air Cargo Belgium

On the north side of Brussels Airport, just a few hundred meters from where families embark on vacations and business trips kick off, lies the airport’s less famous part: BRUCargo. At any given time, the 109-hectare logistics site is buzzing with trucks and planes, shipping nearly 750,000 tons of goods yearly. In its midst lies Air Cargo Belgium: a thriving cluster organization that unites forwarders, handlers and airlines through one common goal: making BRUCargo the most attractive, efficient platform for successful logistics innovation in the world.

Approaching its third anniversary, Air Cargo Belgium is one of Flanders’ innovative business networks. Even in that relatively short lifespan, the cluster has proven its value again and again.

The ‘Yes, together we can’ attitude at Air Cargo Belgium

“Together, we can:

  • increase the efficiency of the air cargo logistics process – by tying together the loose ends between different steps in the flow;
  • boost the volume of air cargo freight in Flanders – by reinforcing BRUCargo’s position against international organizations that handle all steps in the transport process;
  • digitalize the air cargo industry in Flanders and beyond – by stimulating all stakeholders in the field to collaborate in an open source platform.”

Virtually integrating the logistics flow

“The traditional logistics flow is quite fragmented,” asserts Steven Polmans, chairman of Air Cargo Belgium and director of Cargo & Logistics at Brussels Airport, one of the founding organizations of the cluster. “Each shipment passes through multiple stakeholders before it takes to the sky, from handlers and forwarders to airlines. Even though all these firms handle their part of the process flawlessly, the mere fact that the logistics flow is split up makes it inherently inefficient.”

Steven: “The focus of Air Cargo Belgium is not on the separate businesses operating in Flanders, but on the grey areas that lie between their activities. That’s where time and money is lost. We want to tie all loose ends in the logistics flow together and tighten the knots between them by aligning processes and developing digital solutions.” In this way, Air Cargo Belgium virtually integrates its members: handlers, forwarders and airlines work together through shared processes and innovative digital apps, strengthening their joint position against non-integrated cargo gateways. With a seat at the table with the large integrated logistics organizations, BRUCargo is sure to increase its cargo volume in the years to come.

Air Cargo Belgium virtually integrates its members: handlers, forwarders and airlines work together through shared processes and innovative digital apps.

Steven Polmans
Chairman Air Cargo Belgium and director of Cargo & Logistics at Brussels Airport

From ‘we vs. them’ to just ‘we’

When various parties are combined in one cluster, ensuring efficiency becomes a challenge. To tackle this, Air Cargo Belgium created three ‘subclusters’: one for forwarders, one for handlers and one for airlines. “This segmentation allows us to organize meetings and set up projects that are only relevant to certain groups within the cluster,” Steven explains.

“At the same time, because all three subclusters are part of a bigger whole, we avoid a ‘we vs. them’ situation – one that used to exist before, when forwarders, handlers and airlines each had their separate trade associations. Today, there’s no ‘them’, it’s all ‘we, together in Air Cargo Belgium’.”

A melting pot of logistics expertise

Diversity is in the DNA of Flanders – which is home to over 170 nationalities and thousands of expats. This typical melting pot also defines the cluster. “It’s an interesting mix,” Steven says. “We’ve got members of all sizes and from all over the world. From a small company that specializes in animal transport to giant enterprises handling vast amounts of freight around the globe, from handlers and forwarders to airlines – everyone’s welcome.”

It’s not just local firms that are joining the club. “Multinationals with branches in Flanders have a lot to gain from the cluster too. After all, they may have smart solutions for global logistics challenges, but local problems hinder their operations just as much. If there’s a queue of trucks at BruCargo, they’re in it too.”

“I like to think of it as a traffic jam: whether you’re in a Golf or in a Ferrari, if you’re stuck in traffic, you’re equally disadvantaged. So, large or small, Flanders-based or international: all companies that pass goods through BRUCargo can win big by joining Air Cargo Belgium.”

Large or small, Flanders-based or international: all companies that pass goods through BRUCargo can win big by joining Air Cargo Belgium.

Steven Polmans
Chairman Air Cargo Belgium and director of Cargo & Logistics at Brussels Airport

First-of-its-kind certificate for pharma cargo

Temperature changes can impact the quality of pharmaceuticals. This means that heat and cold must always be controlled through all the steps in the logistics flow. Air Cargo Belgium collaborated with the pharma industry to create a certificate for organizations that excel in handling sensitive pharmaceutical goods.

The certification system was quickly adopted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and is now widely used around the globe. Additionally, the IATA added a label to the system, to indicate the maximum allowed temperature range of a certain package. 

From the cloud to the sky

In short, the aim is to achieve a level of virtual integration between the various firms at BRUCargo. The way to get there: digitalization. “Instead of forcing the implementation of expensive and cumbersome digital transformation tracks, we created an ecosystem that stimulates step-by-step digitalization and optimization of the entire logistics process,” Steven says.

BRUCloud is the first open source platform in the air cargo industry – and one of Air Cargo Belgium’s proudest achievements. It’s a breeding ground for innovative apps, each one strengthening one part of the logistics cycle. “Remember the knots we talked about? These apps are what tighten them,” Steven explains.

One example is the Slot Booking App, which reduces waiting times of trucks at the BRUCargo site by 75%. Apart from saving time, this also means that fewer personnel are needed and emissions drop. Or, how about the Customs Export App? This application cuts freight export confirmation clearance time at customs from 6 weeks to under 6 days. Steven: “All these solutions are created bottom-up, based on pressing needs and challenges in the community. And together, they help us achieve our sky-high ambition: making BRUCargo the most attractive, efficient, innovative and successful logistics platform in the world.”

Instead of forcing the implementation of expensive and cumbersome digital transformation tracks, we created BRUCloud: an open source ecosystem that stimulates the step-by-step digitalization of the entire logistics process.

Steven Polmans
Chairman Air Cargo Belgium and director of Cargo & Logistics at Brussels Airport

The sky is the limit

And it doesn’t stop there. As Air Cargo Belgium’s digitalization efforts start paying off for its members, they raise interest beyond borders as well. “Good news travels fast,” Steven concludes. “Today, three other airports – London Heathrow, Vienna and Luik – are using our apps. And when multinationals like DHL and DSV see the effects of our approach in their branches at BRUCargo, it may inspire them to experiment in other locations. That’s the ultimate dream: digitalizing the entire cargo industry, at BRUCargo, in Flanders and worldwide.

Cluster ID

  • Founded in: 2016
  • Consortium: Brussels Airport, Voka, BAFI, ACMAB, CCAB
  • Services: facilitating training and employment, project support for operational efficiency and innovation, communication with and lobbying government organizations, infrastructure support, enhancing community sentiment, central office activities, support for business development and more.
  • Innovation domains: integration of logistics process, development of digital tools
  • Websitehttps://aircargobelgium.be/

9 September 2019

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Air Cargo Belgium: sky-high digital ambitions for logistics

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