An interview with Johan Vanneste, President & CEO, Cologne Bonn Airport. By Ross Falconer
North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s economic powerhouse. Indeed, its 2017 GRP of €691 million makes it the world’s sixth most powerful metropolitan region.
Cologne Bonn Airport is located right at the heart of this vibrant region, with a correspondingly large catchment area (17 million within 100km) and a strong economic environment. Being the home of express service providers UPS, FedEx and DHL means Cologne Bonn is also one of the most important logistics locations for companies in NRW, with the regional economy extremely export-oriented.
Recently-released figures show that Cologne Bonn is a key job generator in the region, with almost 15,000 people employed in 130 enterprises at the airport.
Leading Cologne Bonn Airport’s continued development is Johan Vanneste, who took the helm as President & CEO in May, having previously been President & CEO of lux-Airport for the past four years. His positions prior to that include COO of Belgian cargo carrier TNT Airways, and CEO of VLM Airlines.
“The professional experience I have gained from working for airlines is, of course, very helpful in my new position as airport CEO,” Vanneste begins. “When you work for an airline, you have many aspects in common with the airports, such as handling or using the infrastructure. What does indeed change when you move to the airport is the perspective.”
Johan Vanneste curriculum vitae
Johan Vanneste (57) became the new Chief Executive Officer of Cologne Bonn Airport in May 2018.
• 2014-2018: President & CEO, lux-Airport
• 2014-2018: Managing Director, Airport-Energy S.A. (jointly owned by lux-Airport and LuxEnergie)
• 2011-2013: Chief Operating Officer, TNT Airways
• 2003-2010: Chief Executive Officer, VLM Airlines
The latest passenger numbers show 5% growth to 10 million in the first three quarters of 2018. Key growth drivers were Eurowings in terms of short and medium-haul destinations, and Ryanair, Condor and easyJet, which compensated for the deficit caused by the insolvency of both airberlin and Niki.
“In 2018, we will close with around 13 million passengers, which is an increase of 4% compared to the previous year,” Vanneste explains. “But the outlook is not too bright – the next year will be difficult. We are losing the Eurowings long-haul routes, and some other airlines are also reducing their capacities. In addition to this, there is currently a very high level of dynamism in the aviation industry. The bottom line is that we will have to reckon with a downward trend in passenger numbers in 2019.”
“A well-balanced mix of carriers”
Cologne Bonn’s geographical location between Frankfurt and Düsseldorf means it competes with two bigger airports. “However, we do have an extensive and attractive route network. We also have the advantage of very good connectivity and have ample capacity,” Vanneste notes.
Indeed, Cologne Bonn is strategically positioned as the leading low-cost airport in Germany and, significantly, in June it welcomed the return of easyJet after a two-year absence. easyJet operates
33 weekly flights from Cologne Bonn to Berlin Tegel.
Meanwhile, Ryanair recently announced it will launch a new service between Cologne Bonn and Bordeaux in April 2019, operating the route three times a week.
“We do also need the established airlines, such as Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, and now British Airways, which is starting up a route to London and will hopefully become a long-term partner,” says Vanneste. “What we really need is a well-balanced mix of carriers.”
In a highly symbolic development for Cologne Bonn, British Airways also returned in November after a 12-year hiatus, with a seasonal connection to London Gatwick, which is operated four times a week. “This is particularly important because, thanks to BA, we can also offer our passengers an attractive European and long-haul network out of Gatwick,” Vanneste comments. “We are very proud to see British Airways returning to Cologne Bonn, and we hope this will be a long-term engagement.”
In terms of maintaining competitiveness, Vanneste believes that in the future, process optimisation and passenger comfort will play an important role. “We want to establish ourselves as a ‘Convenient Airport’ that excels with short walking distances and fast processes. We are already on the right track, but we want to become even better and gain the competitive edge.”
Digital innovation is also key. Unlimited free Wi-Fi is at the heart of Cologne Bonn’s digital strategy, and it is proactive across social media platforms including Facebook (140,000 ‘likes’) and Twitter (1,250 followers).
“We already have a lot to offer, such as automatic boarding pass control or the EasyPass for passport control. However, there is certainly more that we can still work on – from valet parking to the option of checking luggage in yourself, or automated boarding using face recognition. There is great potential in all of these areas.”
Looking ahead, the top priority for Vanneste is improving the airport’s profitability. “In order to achieve this, we have to make the most of every opportunity. We will be continuing our strategy in passenger and cargo traffic while, at the same time, expanding our non-aviation business. We are setting up new businesses, building a new hotel, and we have a vision of creating an ‘Airport City’. These are very exciting projects for the future.”