The number of cut flowers transported by aircraft from Kenya to the Netherlands has more than doubled during the past ten years. Schiphol seems to be the perfect hub for Kenyan roses. But for how much longer? Strict governmental regulations and a number of logistical problems are lurking. We’ve listed the seven biggest obstacles.
By Quincy von Bannisseht
Growers and freight carriers involved in the export route Kenya – Netherlands have been expressing their concerns about the developments in the air cargo world for a while. As a result, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) asked consultancy agency Hortiwise to investigate the reasons behind the increasing difficulties surrounding the flower exports from Kenya to the Netherlands. The agency highlighted a large number of problems in their recently published report Study Airfreight Kenya. What are the biggest obstacles?
Lack of southbound airfreight
If you want to transport flowers from Kenya to the Netherlands, the best scenario from an economic perspective, is if you can combine this with a southbound return flight from the Netherlands to Kenya. This used to be no problem. Aircrafts were always easy to fill, with car parts and products for the oil industry for example, which were both in high demand in Africa. But that has changed. Nowadays, southbound planes often have to fly to destinations like South Africa, Ethiopia or Sudan, before they can pick up flowers in Kenya for the northbound flight.
Fewer cargo planes
Airlines have fewer freight-only aircrafts nowadays. Air France-KLM for example, has sidelined quite a few outdated cargo planes. Instead of replacing them, they have started to transport more and more freight in the hold of passenger planes (belly cargo). And it is often more attractive, commercially, to take high-tech products, such as mobile phones, than flowers.
Fewer non-stop flights
During the peak season (October to May) of 2017/2018, 3,334 tons of flowers were shipped from Kenya to the Netherlands. Total relevant air cargo capacity from Kenya to the Netherlands in the high season is estimated at 3,334 tons per week. Of this, 66% is available as premium capacity, which means that flowers are flown directly into AMS, without transit handling. 47% of the total relevant capacity is available through nonstop flights into AMS, excluding technical stops.
All in all, something between a third and more than half of all those flowers arrived at Schiphol after a stopover or via a detour. These flights require more fuel (causing more CO2 emissions) and they have a negative impact on the quality of the flowers.
Valentine’s Day surcharges
Some carriers schedule extra flights for the transport of cut roses during peak periods in the high season, such as Valentine’s Day. Last season, some carriers increased their rates during that period with a Valentine’s Day surcharge.
Large carriers such as Lufthansa, Emirates and Air France-KLM announced that they are going to base their rates on the volumetric weight of the freight instead of on the actual weight. The volumetric weight indicates the ratio between the actual weight of a shipment and the room it takes up in an airplane. This could be a disadvantage for flower transport, as flowers are relatively light, but they do take up space.
Insufficient air traffic rights
Some carriers don’t have enough air traffic rights for certain routes. This is why some aircrafts can’t fly directly from Kenya to Schiphol. Saudia flights from Kenya for example, must always travel via the Saudi city of Jeddah (they also do this because of the lower fuel prices by the way). The carrier is allowed a maximum of six direct flights from Kenya to Schiphol per week. A limitation that doesn’t apply to their route from Nairobi to Maastricht Aachen Airport. Other carriers, including Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, are facing similar restrictions. The only way to put a halt to these inefficient flight routes is through bilateral agreements between the Netherlands and the countries concerned. But these are often hindered by political interests, like countries supporting their own national carriers (like Air France-KLM or Martinair).
Shortage of Schiphol slots
There’s an increasing shortage of available slots (the time period during which an aircraft can land or take off) at Schiphol, leading to carriers choosing alternative airports such as Maastricht, Liège or Brussels. This adds to the costs of floricultural products, because the last stretch of the journey has to be done by lorry. It also adds to the time required for distribution and it has a negative impact on the quality of the flowers, because cooling facilities are lacking.