Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is targeting mainland Chinese and Asian high-technology and pharmaceutical companies as it seeks to boost its appeal as a leading European airfreight hub.
This comes as Air China recently became the latest mainland carrier to inaugurate air cargo services between mainland China and Amsterdam with the launch of a five-times-a-week service on September 12.
Enno Osinga, a senior vice-president for cargo at Schiphol, said the airport had recently set up a steering group "to ensure all the necessary elements are in place to encourage" pharma and life sciences business through Amsterdam.
"This will now become our model for similar activity in other commodity markets and trade lanes that we identify as interesting for Schiphol," Osinga said.
"We have been approached by several global hi-tech companies to assist in their business evaluation processes," he added, pointing out that mainland telecommunications giant Huawei had recently expanded its Dutch operations and moved its financial centre to Amsterdam.
Electric car and bus maker BYD has a distribution centre in Rotterdam as it plans to expand into Europe's electric-vehicle market.
Schiphol, one of the four shareholders of Tradeport, the warehouse and logistics complex at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport, is the only European airport to have a dedicated cargo team.
Osinga said this focus helped the airport weather the downturn in trade caused by the euro-zone crisis.
The Amsterdam airport handled 729,174 tonnes of cargo in the first six months of this year, down 3.2 per cent from a year earlier. Frankfurt handled 986,679 tonnes between January and June, but this was a 10.2 per cent drop compared with the same period last year, partly because of a recent ban on night flights. London's Heathrow Airport saw a 2 per cent drop in cargo volumes to 725,974 tonnes in the first half of this year.
"The year is shaping up slightly more positively for us than we expected. Until the long-running concerns over European sovereign debt and the state of the US economy are resolved, consumer confidence will remain fragile, and this will also impact the health of the consumer markets that are the core of all airfreight business," Osinga said. "We feel industry attitudes are more positive recently and that business is returning to stability, but it would be foolish to predict a return to strong growth any time soon."
Commenting on the Air China Cargo services, Osinga said Air China and Schiphol representatives met at an exhibition in Shanghai in June when the airline confirmed it would start services.
"Air China Cargo also used the event in Shanghai to talk to the ground-handling companies, and the subsequent decision to opt for Swissport was linked to our combined presence there," he said.
Air China Cargo, jointly set up by Air China and Cathay Pacific Airways, operates Boeing 747-400 freighters from Shanghai, through Chengdu or Chongqing, to Amsterdam, returning through Tianjin. The carrier has slots for up to 10 flights a week between Shanghai and Amsterdam and some of the new services replace flights to Frankfurt.
Air China Cargo executive vice-president and chief financial officer Huang Bin said the Amsterdam route was the third service to Europe and showed the airline's confidence in "prospects for the air cargo market between China and the Netherlands".