Since January 25, all Egyptair cargo flights carrying strawberries, raspberries, beans, peas, broccoli, and spring onions for the Tulpin Group have been landing at Brussels airport. The Ostend airport, where that Belgian company and its transport company Ostendfresh usually operate, is temporarily closed.
"That work will take two months and includes re-laying the runway's top layer, breaking out and widening the taxiways for aircraft, and renewing all runway lighting," begins Alain Tulpin of the Tulpin Group, which specializes in the logistics and transport of Egyptian vegetables and fruit to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
Photo Nik De Blauwe
"That was all necessary to allow larger energy-efficient planes to taxi better and to get the runway back in optimal condition after the last maintenance work in 2008. It will cost €7 million. The airport will reopen on Thursday, March 28, just on the eve of the Easter holidays. Those are crucial for the passenger company TUI fly, which carries 400,000 passengers annually from Ostend."
The plan for the works was announced in early 2023, says Alain. "However, a solution had to be found for the Egyptair cargo flights that bring fresh vegetables and fruit from Egypt to Ostend daily. The ADOCA (Association for Development of Ostend Cargo Airport) decided to develop a project," he says.
"I chair that association. The first exploratory talks with various stakeholders occurred at the Fruit Logistica 2023. It quickly became evident that there were few alternatives to Ostend, as it's the airport closest to the UK. It's smaller but very efficient, distance and time-wise."
"A study done by the ADOCA showed that the only viable option is Brussels Airport. We quickly met with Ostend and Brussels Airports and handler Aviapartner management. Then, an ADOCA delegation visited Cairo, where they presented the Brussels project. There was another airport in the running, but we demonstrated that Brussels was the best alternative. It would serve both Egyptian exporters and European and English importers' interests and keep costs under control. It was decided in early November, and Egyptair agreed to the proposal," Alain explains.
Huge supply of strawberries from Huelva
The project does not threaten the end of the Egyptian strawberry season for the service provider. A season that, according to Alain, was quite intense. "The space on the market meant we had plenty of demand, so sales were quick until New Year. However, the supply declined slightly in the first week of January due to Egypt's first production wave ending. That caused a temporary shortage in the market. But, the second wave began in the second week of January."
"By mid-January, it also became clear that the United Kingdom had reached the 6,000 tons quota", says Tulpin. That means the UK can import up to a certain volume tax-free. After that, importers can expect a 10% levy on Egyptian strawberries. It was established to protect English growers from too many imported products. "Egyptian strawberries are no threat to the English growers, but unfortunately, that country doesn't want to increase the quota. That means there's less to earn, and demand is slowly decreasing."
"Less volume now being traded from Egypt is further confirmed by the good weather in Spanish Huelva. A huge supply of Spanish strawberries will hit the market starting next week. That usually also means that supply will drop in three weeks, but Egypt can't still compete then. We normally expect the last Egyptian strawberries in the first week of March. The first peaches come on the market in late March/early April. Egypt is now also massively switching to the frozen market, especially IQF frozen strawberries", Alain concludes.