Passengers at Findel airport in Luxembourg may have noticed a cluster of cranes a few hundred yards from the runway. The structure being erected looks fairly unremarkable (though it will eventually be topped with striking hexagonal skylights). Along its side is a line of loading bays, suggesting it could be intended as a spillover site for the brimming cargo terminal nearby. This new addition to one of Europe’s busiest air-freight hubs will not hold any old goods, however. It will soon be home to billions of dollars’ worth of fine art and other treasures, much of which will have been whisked straight from collectors’ private jets along a dedicated road linking the runway to the warehouse.
The concept is an old one. Originally freeports (also known as bonded areas) were used to house commodities on the move, and later manufactured goods as well. In the past half-century more and more of them have moved upmarket, a trend that has accelerated recently as investment in art and other valuables has shot up (see chart 1).