After a long career as an international consultant in airport freight, Alain Decors has developed a ground handling company at Liege Airport. After two years of activity, Belgium Airport Services already handles more than 10% of local traffic.
The star of Liège airport today is the Chinese Cainiao (Alibaba group), which opened its warehouse last November. We would forget Belgian actors, very active on the site. Belgium Airport Services (BAS) is one of them. It is even a start-up, given the youth of the company, founded in 2018. BAS is active in ground handling (handling), namely the unloading and loading of aircraft, or even storage. It currently employs 120 people and continues to recruit.
The star of Liège airport today is the Chinese Cainiao (Alibaba group), which opened its warehouse last November. We would forget Belgian actors, very active on the site. Belgium Airport Services (BAS) is one of them. It is even a start-up, given the youth of the company, founded in 2018. BAS is active in ground handling (handling), namely the unloading and loading of aircraft, or even storage. It currently employs 120 people and continues to recruit. “We reached 160,000 tonnes of freight handled in 2021, compared to 105,000 in 2020”, or at least 10% of the platform’s traffic, says Alain Decors, 57, founder and CEO of the company. Its competitors and neighbors in the northern area of the airport include Swissport, WFS and Aviapartner. Alain Decors has not landed in unknown territory. He is co-author of a study on the development of the airport (known as the Bouygues/Tractebel study), carried out from 1990 to 1991, when he worked in a Liège subsidiary of the Bouygues group. “I was 27, it was exciting,” he recalls. And new because the young graduate in physical education and business administration (ULiège), also a training works manager, was then active in real estate projects. This study allowed him to travel all over the world, especially in Asia, to meet airlines, asking them what their needs were in order to be interested in an airport like Liège, which Walloon politicians wanted to develop. “I was well received. At the time, the interlocutors of the companies visited were not used to an airport coming to consult them”, he says. Since then, the air freight virus has not left Alain Decors. He was first commercial director of the airport, before the era of Luc Partoune, whom he rubbed shoulders with for only a few weeks. He left in 1996, after signing the Cargo Air and TNT contracts which were to launch the Liege Airport project and he created an airport consultancy company, Airfreight Development Worldwide. “I wrote studies for airports or for groups that wanted to participate in the privatization of airports, to assess, for example, the potential of an airport’s freight activity, the investments to be considered.” Its clients include several French groups, including ADP (Aéroports de Paris), Egis Airport Operation and Vinci Concessions. He has worked on airports in over 60 countries. If he returns to Liège in handling, it’s a bit to stabilize himself, because consultancy involves a lot of travel, and also to rediscover the pleasure of sport. Passionate about athletics, Alain Decors took over the presidency of the RFCL Athletics club in 2018. He even temporarily transformed a corner of the warehouse to organize training there. And then, the handling, he knows well. One of his most important clients as a consultant was the French group WFS (Worldwide Flight Services), long managed by Olivier Bijaoui, active in cargo and passenger handling (luggage transport, check-in). He was the man for the “special missions” of the CEO when there was a problem at such and such an airport (WFS is deployed on almost all continents) and has lived in Paris for a long time to stay close to its main customers. The return to Liege Airport is also explained by a change in WFS shareholders, which prompted Olivier Bijaoui to leave the company. Alain Decors then imagined, with his former client, opening a handling service at Liege Airport. In addition to the tandem, two investors, Peter Smith and Ulrich Ogiermann, met in the aeronautical world as clients or partners, participate in the start-up. Each shareholder holds 25% of the shares. Alain Decors manages the company, Olivier Bijaoui is its executive chairman. The company achieved a turnover of around 18 million euros for 2021 and proved profitable in the first year (446,000 euros after tax, according to the BNB), partly due to – or thanks to – Liege Airport. The latter had not been able to rent them, as planned, a building of 6,000 m2, in the Fret Nord area overlooking the runways. “We had only obtained 2,000 m2. It was not much, but in the end it reduced start-up costs”, concedes Alain Decors. The company was nevertheless awarded, a year later, a 6,000 m2 hangar in the same area, at the start of Avenue Saint-Exupéry, where the tarmac touches the fields. “We were also lucky to see the development of e-commerce, especially from China,” adds the manager. The airlines seemed delighted to see a new competitor arrive with some familiar names at its helm. In two and a half years, the company has consolidated well. “We have without doubt the most diversified portfolio of handlers at the airport”, rejoices Alain Decors. Among its customers are El Al, Turkish Airlines, DHL, Bolloré, DSV, Amerijet, Maersk, Geodis, Amazon. Or Kuehne + Nagel, German freight giant for which Belgium Airport Services manages a “second line” stock. This expression refers to warehouses located outside the actual airport site, the airside, inside the secure perimeter and where the goods have not yet been cleared through customs. Customers are sometimes airlines, sometimes forwarding agents (freight forwarders) who are responsible for managing the shipment of freight for a company. To ensure its activity, Belgium Airport Services has, in addition to its facilities adjacent to the runways, warehouses outside the airport area: 12,000 m2 on behalf of Kuehne + Nagel, a second of 5,500 m2 for e- Chinese trade. Belgium Airport Services manages a final warehouse of 14,000 m2 on behalf of a Chinese client. 2021 was a very good year for Liège airport in general and for Belgium Airport Services in particular. The first is experiencing continuous growth, which has indirectly benefited from the abolition of passenger flights (due to the pandemic) which also carry freight in their holds, which has boosted full freight flights. “The end of the year was all the same quieter than we thought, Chinese e-commerce did not give the expected volumes”, recognizes Alain Decors. No doubt because of the return of passenger flights at competing airports and the pandemic which is destabilizing production in certain corners of China. It may also be the effect of the shortage of full-cargo aircraft that is affecting the sector. As a result, prices soar. A 747 return flight to Asia, which costs around 450,000 euros, can exceed a million with supply and demand tensions, which is annoying if a company does not have a long-term contract. For transport. Some can pay for it (probably those active in medical equipment: covid tests, syringes) but e-commerce, more sensitive to airfare, suffers. For Alain Decors, these turbulences do not call into question the development of Liege Airport and its company. “We still expect growth for 2022, although it will be less than in 2021,” he says. Even if he has not been maneuvering at Liege Airport for a long time, where he had contributed as commercial director to attracting the first big operators, Alain Decors keeps an eye on his eyes when he travels the roads around the airport. Driving between his warehouses on the tarmac and on the second line, he sees all the buildings that have risen from the ground over the 30 years since the first development study. Now he is one of the companies he once hoped to attract to Liege Airport.