Kontakt Flappe öffnen
A talk with former Lufthansa Cargo CCO Dr. Alexis von Hoensbroech

“… two wings, two large engines, 100 t payload and 10,000 km reach.”

cargo-partner and Lufthansa Cargo are united by a long-standing collaboration. Out of this close collaboration emerged an excellent relationship with Dr. Alexis von Hoensbroech, who was CCO of Lufthansa Cargo until he changed to Austrian at the beginning of August. We took this opportunity and invited him to talk to us about the most recent developments in airfreight.

“The only cargo drone which has a chance of becoming reality in the remote future is one that has two wings, two large engines, 100 t payload and 10,000 km reach.”

Dr. Hoensbroech ventures a prognosis on the topic of drones.

“ …worldwide airfreight will be significantly bigger in 20 years than it is today.”

The newly appointed CEO of Austrian Airlines sees a lot of potential for airfreight in the future.

Interviewer: When you started your current job at Lufthansa Cargo three and a half years ago, you mentioned in an interview that you were grateful for your “new kid on the block” status, since this allowed you to gain an outsider’s view on the industry. By now, do you see yourself as a “veteran”? And how has this initial distance paid off in the end?

In principle, expert knowledge is very helpful. However, ignorance can also be an advantage, since it can give you a fresh perspective on things, unencumbered by professional bias. But this is only possible when you listen, learn quickly and manage not to jump to conclusions. “Veteran” might be too big of a word in this context; after 3.5 years, I still feel like more of a “rookie”. Though I do know my way around airfreight by now. The outsider’s view was very helpful in this regard, especially when it came to breaking up established structures during our reorganization, or radically simplifying aspects of our customer offering which had grown complex over time, such as our incentive agreements or capacity contracts.

In the area of passenger transport, the airfreight industry has undergone a transformation in the past decade: Flight status updates in real time, modern online booking systems, self-check-in, high transparency for passengers and the elimination of paper tickets and related processes. On the other hand, the air freight industry is said to lag behind when it comes to digitalization, still relying on printed air waybills and the like. How high would you rank the need for innovation?

Very high! There is a lot of potential for optimization in the transport chain. All in all, the customer experience we offer is still much too complicated. Our industry is not at a loss for good ideas, but we are just terribly slow! It took over ten years to get from the idea of an eAWB to a functioning product, and another eight years to achieve a 50% usage rate. And the eAWB is only the first step. The world is not waiting for us – in the past six years, over 5 billion US dollars were invested in logistics startups. There is a danger that others will do our jobs better than us at some point – unless we really step up our digitalization game!

The airfreight industry’s success is largely reliant on the fast transport of goods, and no sea vessel in the world could compete with this advantage. However, this unique advantage of delivering urgent goods to a specific place in the world within a short amount of time – to prevent a production standstill, for instance – may find its end with the increasing progress of 3D print technology. Some observers are even talking about the end of airfreight – what’s your take on this exciting development?

3D print will not have a large impact on airfreight. We have a long way to go before we’ll get an iPhone coming out of a printer. And even if that day should come: 3D printers will be very complex large-scale machines standing in large factories. And their output will, once again, need to be transported to where it’s needed. We estimate that only a small, single-digit percentage of air freight can be substituted with 3D print.

Beside 3D print, another “hype topic” at the moment seems to be goods transport with the aid of drones. Do you see those small cousins of the airfreight industry as a potential means of transportation for the first or last mile? When do you expect that this will become a realistically marketable solution?

I don’t see drones as a relevant technology for the mass transport of goods, especially not for the first/last mile. It is difficult to imagine that drones could reach the cost-efficiency of a Mercedes Sprinter. Besides, there are massive technological and regulative issues: With thousands of drones in the inner cities, how do you guarantee that none of them fall down? How do you prevent them from getting hacked? What about noise pollution, or the issue of blowing up dust and gravel at every corner? How does a drone distribute parcels in an apartment building? And what about their energy supply? In our opinion, drones only have potential for a few select niche applications which, even today, are typically flown with helicopters, such as bringing medicine to a secluded village in the jungle. The only cargo drone which has a chance of becoming reality in the remote future is one that has two wings, two large engines, 100 t payload and 10,000 km reach.

Speaking of trends and challenges in airfreight – what are the most important ones of today and what will they be tomorrow? And, looking ahead to “the day after tomorrow” – where do you see airfreight in, say, 20 years?

Airfreight has been growing constantly for the last 100 years – and will continue to do so. Globalization without airfreight is simply impossible to imagine, 25% of globally traded goods value is transported by aircraft. Fundamental trends remain intact: globalization, growing middle classes in developing countries, eCommerce, increased worldwide distribution of labor. My prognosis is that worldwide airfreight will be significantly bigger in 20 years than it is today.

Some observers believe that Donald Trump’s protectionist economic policy and the impending Brexit might lead to stagnation in the progress of globalization. Do you see a risk that these developments could cause lasting harm to our industry?

In the past, globalization has proven to be rather resilient to protectionism, so I think the long-term danger is relatively small. In the short term, however, a strongly escalating trade conflict could, of course, put a damper on global trade.

China is currently boosting its efforts in regard to the „new silk road“: The expansion of the rail corridor through Central Asia and Russia is impressive by merit of its speed alone. Could rail transport lead to a redistribution of global commodity flows between sea and air freight in some areas?

Rail transport between China and Europe is set to gain significance in the foreseeable future – but only as long as China keeps massively subsidizing it. It remains to be seen whether this will ever develop into an independent and viable business model. At the moment, rail transport is mainly a competition for sea freight. But naturally, there are consequences for airfreight as well. For now, however, they are clearly overcompensated by the strong growth on the Asian trade lane.

Lufthansa Cargo and cargo-partner are connected by a close and long-standing partnership. How do you see the cooperation between the two companies – and how is working with a mid-sized logistics provider such as us different from working with the “big players” in the industry?

We’ve always enjoyed working with mid-sized logistics companies like cargo-partner. We’re connected by a similar DNA – the focus on quality, reliability and trust. It’s more about individual solutions and less about “mass consolidation” as practiced by the large forwarders. We do need those, too, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to fill our large capacities 24/7/365 – but the mix is what makes it work so well!

cargo-partner and Lufthansa Cargo share a long-standing, good and close partnership on a professional and personal level. Together, we have managed to develop an attractive offer for our clients which has led to a very successful and continuous shared growth. And we definitely intend to carry this forward!

“Rail transport between China and Europe is set to gain significance in the foreseeable future – but only as long as China keeps massively subsidizing it.”

On whether the Silk Road could become a popular alternative to sea and airfreight.

“We’re connected by a similar DNA – the focus on quality, reliability and trust. It’s more about individual solutions…”

Alexis von Hoensbroech sums up the cooperation between cargo-partner and Lufthansa Cargo.

After nearly 3.5 years with Lufthansa Cargo, you will be switching to Austrian Airlines – a passenger carrier – in August. How will you be looking back on your time in airfreight? What projects are you especially proud of? Are there any ongoing challenges where you would have liked the chance to observe the further progress?

When I think of Lufthansa Cargo, I think of great times, great people – there was never a boring day. In my 3.5 years with the company, we’ve had many highs and lows. I’m especially proud of the successful turnaround in 2017 which we achieved together as a team. There have been many other great successes, including the streamlining of our organizational structure, the modernization of many processes, especially in pricing, revenue management, long-term contracts, our customer loyalty program etc.

I feel strongly about digitalization – this is a topic I would have liked to support further. We got many things rolling, but we’re nowhere near finished.

From a carrier with 19 freighters and large “belly capacities” within the Lufthansa Group, you’ve now switched to an airline with 83 aircraft, around 130 destinations and over 12 million passengers per year. Do you want to maintain your “new kid on the block” status this time around as well?

This time will be different, as I’m already well-versed in passenger travel. And Austrian Airlines is a great brand, a proud company with lots of potential. I’m looking forward to this exciting challenge and I’ll do my best to get to know the company, the people, the customers and partners with as little bias as possible, to lead them into a hopefully successful future together with my new colleagues.

Thank you for the interview and best of success with your new responsibilities.

Biography Alexis von Hoensbroech

From 2014 to July 2018, Dr. Alexis von Hoensbroech was a member of the board at Lufthansa Cargo, where he was in charge of global sales and handling outside of the hubs in Frankfurt and Munich as well as product management, revenue management, network management and platform management within Austrian Airlines and the strategic eCargo project.

He studied physics at the University of Bonn before obtaining a doctorate in an astrophysics-related subject at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. After working at The Boston Consulting Group in Munich and Tokyo Dr. Alexis von Hoensbroech switched to the German Lufthansa AG in 2005. On August 1, 2018, he was appointed by Lufthansa as the new CEO of Austrian Airlines.

Dr. Alexis von Hoensbroech is married and has five children.

Offering a Wide Range of Air Cargo Services

cargo-partner started as an airfreight specialist at Vienna Airport in 1983. Since its beginnings, the company has not only grown considerably, but also forged many lasting partnerships which have significantly contributed to the international logistics provider’s success. One of these is the close and reliable partnership with Lufthansa Cargo. This is why cargo-partner was particularly delighted when the cooperation was awarded with the Lufthansa Performance Awards in 2016, where cargo-partner was able to achieve the first place out of 38 participants.