Brussels pharma community applauds LCAG’s direct freighter service

The Brussels (BRU) cargo community as well as the Belgian pharma shippers are delighted about Lufthansa Cargo’s decision to launch a direct cargo service from BRU to Chicago ORD.The first B777F flight will be launched on 03APR24, and operated twice a week thereafter, on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Currently, LH Cargo operates 17 B777F, with number 18 joining the fleet soon – courtesy LHC

The entire routing will lead from Frankfurt via Brussels Zaventem to Chicago O’Hare and back to the freight airline’s home hub at Rhine-Main Airport. This is the first time the carrier has connected Belgium directly to the American continent with a cargo aircraft. LCAG is particularly focused on Brussels Airport’s pharma segment.

Freek De Witte, Director of Air Cargo Belgium, says that the cargo community is very pleased with this new connection and especially with the additional full freighter capacity it will bring.

“United Airlines also provides a passenger service between Brussels and Chicago, but now we will also have main deck capacity. Lufthansa has been active at the airport for a long time, but even then, it is nice that a legacy carrier has now decided to bring in freighter capacity, as well.” Mr. De Witte thinks that filling this capacity will not be much of a problem, since he has understood that the new service has been introduced at the request of some freight forwarders.

Pharma.aero Chief, Frank van Gelder, knows the pharma business from A to Z – courtesy of Pharma.aero

Capacity needs
CFG asked Frank Van Gelder (FVG), Secretary-General of Pharma.aero, what the new service means for the pharma shippers.

CFG: Does this new service play into a need for extra capacity, Mr. Van Gelder?

FVG: It does as, if we look at this specific commodity, pharma is a growing commodity in air cargo. This phenomenon is influenced by the continuous growth of the world population, especially in the number of elderly people. This increases the direct demand for more chronic therapies for chronic conditions.

On top of this, we notice more possibilities in the treatment of oncological conditions because of the exponential growth in the new generation of mRNA cancer vaccines, which accelerated after the pandemic. This leads to pharma being an even more high-value product, with little room for delay, so that we must be able to operate with a very small error margin.

Then there is also the further exponential increase of clinical studies, to date over 45,000 internationally, within the range of new therapies. This happens to create an important flow between the U.S. and Europe, which is the direct answer to your question. This new service will steer the demand for capacity in which enough and reliable air cargo uplift must be guaranteed. Chicago is one of the premier pharma hubs in the U.S., especially as a transit pool thanks to its connectivity network.

Part of the strategy

CFG: Is this another confirmation of the role of BRU as a pharma hub?

FVG: I don’t’ think this confirmation is still necessary. Apart from all the other growing pharma business, Brussels Airport has handled over 3 billion COVID vaccines. I do not think that we should see this as an upgrade. For me, as an observer of these activities, it is part of the business strategy. As a cofounder of Pharma.aero, Brussels Airport had very soon seen the light in the tunnel, realizing that only a tailormade and specifically developed pharma strategy is imperative to meet the quality demands these consignments imply.

The strengths of Brussels Airport are its vision on air cargo and pharma, and the strong community built together with Air Cargo Belgium. I am not surprised that a ‘home carrier’ like Lufthansa Cargo, of which Brussels Airlines is a part, focusses on a full freighter operation between Brussels and Chicago. This will enable Brussels Airport to keep its lead, as it is a continuous investment in this spearhead program. “Lead by example” is certainly applicable to the Brussels Airport cargo team and the community as a whole. There is indeed a clear pharma spirit on the cargo side of Brussels Airport.

Small volume, high value

CFG: Seen from a broader perspective, what does the pharma market between Europe (Belgium) and the U.S. look like?

FVG: Europe remains the main export pool for pharma air cargo globally. 50% of the global production is between 5 countries, with the U.S. accounting for 27%. Europe is the main producer of finished high value treatments.

The total air cargo volume is not very high, 3.59%, which is very low compared to e.g. e-commerce. But the street value of what is being flown is extremely high and accounts for 5.58% of the global air cargo profits. With new therapies around ATMP (Cell and Gene Therapy), we see very strong investments and developments in the U.S. as well as in the EU, in which Belgium plays a considerable part. Until today, this is merely an export story, but these flows follow the developments in the future markets and may turn very quickly.

In other news: LCAG renews and expands CargoIS agreement
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that Lufthansa Cargo has renewed and expanded the scope of its agreement to utilize CargoIS, which provides comprehensive market intelligence on the air cargo industry.

As part of the new agreement, Lufthansa Cargo will also join the IATA CargoIS Direct Data (CDD) contribution program, the carrier announced. This initiative facilitates the collective sharing and pooling of anonymized data among participating airlines. It empowers stakeholders to benchmark performance, identify industry trends, and make well-informed decisions within the competitive air cargo sector.

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