A talk with Zmago Skobir, Managing Director of Fraport Slovenija

“...Slovenia is a connecting country between East and West”

The Airport of Ljubljana (LJU) is known for its ideal position between East and West in the vicinity of the Port of Koper. We interviewed the Managing Director, Zmago Skobir, to talk to us about the most recent developments and future goals, the airport's main competitor and how new opportunities in the neighborhood will affect the company's business outlook.

We definitely have the good fortune of being positioned at a geostrategic point in Europe where the Trans-European paths cross. Slovenia is a connecting country between East and West, not just geographically but also culturally.

Zmago Skobir on the advantages that Slovenia offers to the transport industry - not only from a geographical point of view

Interviewer: Being a rather smaller Airport within the heart of Europe, what are LJU’s goals and vision for the next years? How would you describe the airport’s ambitions in the field of air cargo and what potential do you see for this particular business activity?

Zmago Skobir: Ljubljana Airport is not the biggest competitor in the surrounding markets, but we pride ourselves on being one of the most efficient and flexible airport operators. As the primary airport of an EU member state, we are obliged to keep the pace with the biggest players on the market, but on a competitive budget. We therefore want to continue using our vast experience and knowledge to provide the widest possible and commercially efficient passenger flights network. In the field of air freight, we actually hold a better competitive position and are one of this region’s leaders. Supply and demand in the field of passenger traffic are not primarily run by airports, but in the field of air freight, we hold better cards. Our geographic position is good, our infrastructure is even better and growing. Most importantly, our solutions and the versatility of our services in the field of air freight are at top level. All of this, combined with the potential of the available land, makes us look into our air freight future with good expectations. Big express mailers such as FedEx/TNT, UPS or DHL are growing at our airport and some of the big logistics companies are moving their business here. This is consolidating our position as an important airfreight hub for the SEE region.

cargo-partner views Slovenia as one of the most important hubs for its business operations in the CEE region. Additionally, the company is planning to expand its storage capacities with the new iLogistics Center at Ljubljana Airport, further confirming the country’s importance for the company’s worldwide network. And cargo-partner is not the only company with this approach. How do explain that this country with 2 million inhabitants in the heart of Europe plays such a vital role in transport and logistics?

We definitely have the good fortune of being positioned at a geostrategic point in Europe where the trans-European paths cross and the outskirts of Asia and Africa can already be seen on the horizon. Slovenia is a connecting country between East and West, not just geographically but also culturally. A good road network and the vicinity of the Port of Koper are strengthening our position, and the developing railway network is going to increase the potential even further. On top of that, Ljubljana Airport has available space and a ready-to-invest spatial plan for logistics hub growth.

Ljubljana Airport 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?

cargo-partner and Fraport Slovenia have a long business history and have always cooperated well. Fraport Slovenia works hard to assure the highest possible level of services and is very flexible to adapt to the requirements of all business partners – big and small. cargo-partner is a very valuable partner of ours and we are happy this successful cooperation is reflected by the two-digit growth of export traffic over the last year. We are sure that cargo-partner’s new, modern logistics terminal and the developing cargo infrastructure at LJU will offer many new inspiring opportunities for cooperation in the future.

The Port of Koper is proving itself as an important Adriatic cargo hub and steadily developing its freight volumes with several upcoming investments in its infrastructure. Do you, as a nearby airport, benefit from the growing volumes at Koper?

The development of the Port of Koper and in particular cargo-partner’s new logistics infrastructure at the airport will generate additional airfreight traffic flows in the region in the near future. Fraport Slovenija will respond to these investments with growing capacities and will provide even better conditions for expanding airfreight business at Ljubljana Airport.

First impressions of the new iLogistics Center Slovenia

“cargo-partner is a very valuable partner of ours and we are happy this successful cooperation is reflected by the two-digit growth of export traffic over the last year. We are sure that cargo-partner’s new, modern logistics terminal and the developing cargo infrastructure at LJU will offer many new inspiring opportunities for cooperation in the future.”

The Managing Director of Fraport Slovenija sums up the cooperation between cargo-partner and Ljubljana Airport

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. As an airport with a noticeable cargo amount, how high would you rank the need for innovation?

Innovation is needed in the air freight industry. The question is not if, but rather when. Air freight could benefit from the IT solutions that are already successfully implemented in passenger traffic. As the technological platforms already exist, I think that the transformation will come fast – especially once a competitive alternative transportation solution or strong industry player make their mark. Digitalization and the use of AI in air freight could have an immense positive impact on time, size of facilities, tracking …

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 LJU in, say, 10 years? How do you see Ljubljana Airport positioning itself with the competitors in Vienna, Budapest or Zagreb?

There are quite a few challenging issues ahead: saturation of mega hubs, distribution of traffic to regional airports, further optimization of single European airspace, one air waybill/ticket for all means of transport, digitally and AI-supported time and cost optimization of the logistics chain.

We see Zagreb as our main competitor and our mid-term goal is to keep the leading position as a cargo airport platform in the region. Right now we are in the process of evaluating what the most efficient cargo infrastructure would be and what investments are needed to offer an appealing and flexible solution on the mid run.

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 airfreight in some areas?

In areas with a good railway infrastructure and where train transport is a viable solution cost- and timewise, definitely yes.

These days, everyone seems to be talking about goods transport with the aid of drones. Do you see these small cousins of the airfreight industry as a potential means of transport for the first or last mile? Will airports eventually become completely obsolete or be downgraded to the role of “local drone hubs”?

Drones are a technology which will definitely change the landscape of air transport. Some applications of the technology already have great results. Nevertheless the technology still has to grow and mature on a technical, and even more on a regulatory level. Currently it seems that drones could be a significant complement to traditional services. As for the idea of airports becoming completely obsolete – I would say no, but we will have to adapt as we already have many times before.

Thank you for the interview!

About cargo-partner in Slovenia

cargo-partner has been present in Slovenia since 1996 and has been constantly growing since then. Currently, we have 103 employees at our offices in Ljubljana and Koper. In August 2018 cargo-partner celebrated the official start of construction of its modern warehouse facility near Ljubljana Airport. The iLogistics Center will provide 25,000 m² of storage space and is scheduled to take up operations in fall 2019. cargo-partner will also expand its team in Slovenia to 120 employees.  

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