The ground handler has gone through huge restructuring in the last few years but is back on track and gradually growing business, writes Justin Burns
The last few years have been all about restructuring, cost-cutting and stabilisation for Nordic and UK ground handler Aviator after financial problems threatened its future, but it is now growing business and its footprint.
Aviator now has 16 stations in UK, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark and has recently increased its presence and platform at Copenhagen Airport (CPH) by winning a contract with the Lufthansa Group – the first time it has worked with Lufthansa Airline to deliver full handling.
In Sweden, the handler has also recently won contracts with Eurowings and LOT in Gothenburg and Stockholm as well as adding passenger handling to the regional airline BRA in Gothenburg and Malmo, where Aviator previously already delivered ramp handling to BRA. In Finland, Aviator recently won contracts with Ukraine International Airlines and Aegean Airlines and is soon starting up with Chinese carrier Juneyao Airlines and Tibet Airlines – as their launch partner in Europe.
The ground handler has also grown its business at Manchester Airport and picked up a contract for ramp handling with Etihad Airways and extended several partnerships, such as Wizz Air, SAS, FedEx, DHL, UPS and TNT.
Jo Alex Tanem, chief executive officer of Aviator says every contract is important and helps the handler broaden its platform and makes it “less vulnerable” while there has been a strategic approach to customers it is targeting.
“We have succeeded in creating a solid platform operationally, financially and commercially, and are looking at expanding into new stations, new areas and growing our existing business,” he says.
Tanem says competition in the ground handling marketplace is “fierce” and Aviator not only has a focus on winning new contracts but maintaining existing ones. “We cannot let new customers jeopardise our existing customers’ performance,” he adds.
He says that Aviator is also potentially targeting growing the number of stations it operates from the current 16 and it has a few possible locations that it is looking into opening at.
Restructuring and cost-cutting
Since 2016, Aviator has undergone a restructuring and cost-cutting programme that was implemented to build a foundation for future sustainable growth.
Tanem says in 2017 it stabilised operations with a new strategy as a decentralised organization, with focus on engaged personnel, sustainable customer relations, strong and proactive management, continuous efficiency improvement and profitable organic growth.
“In our case, a decentralised organization has helped us create ownership and buy-in at every station and every level – to our strategy and our customer commitment,” he says. “When you start off with cutting cost at the magnitude we did, it’s all about building up from there and onwards, brick by brick. Our major tool in getting back in shape, has been all about honesty.
“Honest to our employees about where we were, are and want to be, honest to our customers about our flaws and what we intend to do about it and making promises we intend to keep – basically a no-nonsense communication.”
Tanem says 2018 has been used to bring Aviator to one step further and prepare to further expand from just organic growth. “We have a dedicated workforce who understand that every passenger, every departure, every deice, etc, defines us in who we are, and the better safety and quality we deliver, the safer we stand as a company and workplace,” he says. “The very foundation for a healthy customer relationship, is sound performance, and with sound performance, we secured other aspects of our platform,” he says.
“Aviator have gone through a major restructure the past two years and has taken a giant leap forward.”
Aside from its core ground handling business, Aviator has also set its sights on developing and expanding operations into other areas.
Tanem says the company is broadening its lounge presence and introducing new lounge concepts, growing its ground service equipment (GSE) workshops, developing a new generation washing robots and creating new customer concepts with partners. “We already have a new washing robot on testing, we are developing new workshops and we are negotiating with airports for new lounges,” he adds.
Aviator like many ground handlers is battling wide-ranging challenges now and into the future, including an increasingly unstable airline industry which has seen carriers’ cease operations. The latest casualties were Germania and BMI Regional flybmi in the first quarter of 2019, adding to the failures of Primera Air, VLM Airlines, Small Planet Airlines, Sky Works, and Cobalt Air in the final quarter of 2018.
Tanem does have concerns about the industry this year and moving forward. “We have been hit with a few bankruptcies the past year and a half. Some of them have had a relatively hard impact on us,” he says. “I am afraid we haven’t seen the end of those yet, so I am concerned about airline consolidation not happening fast enough hence we might see more carriers going into administration.”
After a tough few years, it seems that Aviator is now on a firm footing for the future but it seems it is certainly not resting on its laurels and is aiming for further market expansion and to grow its presence.