Aviator was the name assigned at the beginning of this year to the merged constellation of Nordic ground services companies, namely the Swedish company Nordic Aero and the Norwegian companies Røros Flyservice and Norport Ground Handling. The Accent Equity 2008 investment fund acquired just over a 50% share in the Aviator Airport Alliance and the management of the original three companies owned the remaining share. But things have moved on since the Alliance was formed. Jo Murray speaks to Paul Synnott, Chief Executive Officer of Aviator
“We have added another two companies since then: Novia Danmark A/S and Sturup Handling AB which is operated at Malmo Airport,” says Synnott.
When asked if the network is now complete, Synnott responds: “We are definitely not on what I would call the acquisition trail. We do have the capacity, the competence and the financial resources to deal with opportunities when they pop up. We’re not really about putting flags on the map but, if we were, we do have the possibility to do more, and we are open to any proposition that would complement our services in any way – either a complementary service or a complementary geographical area.”
Synnott is very much a services man. He earned his stripes at Serco and has focussed on Scandinavia for the last 15 years. He certainly has all the credentials to manage and grow this collection of five ground handling companies, brought together under the Aviator name.
“I have been brought in to grow the Aviator business and to add value, but we have to do it in a sensible way,” says Synnott. “What we’re not trying to do is simply increase the results for 2011. We could do that very easily but it would probably be a short-term strategy. We have a longer-term strategy to increase the value of the business.”
Certainly Synnott knows the value of promoting the skills inherent in each of the five companies and, let’s face it, these skills are more vibrant and marketable as a collective. “We are looking for synergies in the group and there are a number of ways in which we will achieve efficiencies. Some of the things that I have been looking at include the administrative resources to run the companies. We’ve got five separate companies with separate administrative functions. But what I definitely don’t want to do is damage the level of service available to our customers,” he emphasises.
Of course, with a private equity participant behind Aviator, capital investment is possible. “We have a strong owner now and, although we won’t take risks, we do have better access to capital,” says Synnott. “Putting all this together and working on processes and procedures will lead us to offering better quality to our customers.”
Aviator now operates 22 stations across the Nordics. “Some of the time we only have customers that only operate at one station, or at one or two stations, but the network approach is important for us and we must make sure that we are good at every single one of those stations,” he says. Synnott talks of indirect value that is being delivered through standardised procedures at a higher quality. “The cost of human resources probably isn’t dramatically different; where the improvements come is in terms of best practice, operational excellence and standardised training,” he says.
Of course IT will be the backbone of the network. “The businesses that we have acquired have not been all on the same page in terms of IT,” he says. “Our latest acquisition has a pretty good system so we find ourselves asking whether it is possible to replicate the Novia IT system solution across the entire network.”
He says there are two approaches to IT system selection: the first approach is choosing an IT system that reflects the company’s practices; the second is to allow the IT system to lead the processes. “Most of the operating systems that we would invest in and use have a number of parameters that I would not want to alter too much. Changing them would be great in the short term but in the long term you are making it more difficult to improve your processes,” he says.
“My role is very clear: to improve the performance of all the Aviator business, and I will do that by making sure that our customers and our staff are happy which, in turn, makes the job of improving the performance of the business much easier,” says Synnott. “What I would stress is that we are not going to making any big changes just for change’s sake, so any structural, operational or organisational changes will all be tried and tested before we start running with them.”
To date, Aviator has brought in a full team of senior management at board level. There are now: a Chief Operating Officer, Project Directors and a Chief Financial Officer as well as Synnott as Chief Executive Officer. The model is working well and, since the business was launched, contracts have already been signed with: easyJet, Emirates, Norwegian, Air France-KLM, British Airways and Thai Airways – some of which are new contracts and some of them are renewals. This is a true mark of approval.
As for equipping the operation, Synnott says that, in some areas, there is a requirement to invest; but in others there is too much equipment that needs to be repositioned. “In one of our stations equipment is getting quite old, however they have a very efficient ground services workshop, so we are able to keep everything well maintained,” he says. “What we are investing in is more environmentally friendly equipment like de-icers, or we are changing products, for example having better blower facilities,” says Synnott.”
He continues: “We also have a glycol recycling centre at Arlanda which we are developing. I think one of the things that really sets us apart from any other business is the way in which we recycle the glycol and the system that we use…although the idea of recycling glycol in itself is not unique.”
Synnott himself – being from outside the aviation industry – has a useful vantage point on the ground handling business. He points to the peaks and troughs suffered by the handling industry, and says that he therefore intends to develop Aviator away from being just a ground handling company into an airport services company.
“What we will look to do is use more efficiently all of the resources we have. We will also look to diversify services. Some services don’t need to be performed at peak times – two hours later and you still have the same amount of staff but you don’t have the same volume of work. We could train and re-train certain staff which would make our company more effective, and the airline customers more effective too.”
Synnott says that the jewels in the Aviator crown are the range of services and the areas in which they are located. New products are also being brought to the market. “We’re just about to launch a new lounge in Copenhagen which will be quite a different concept to what we have seen before – hopefully we will be able to use the work that we have done there to open up another lounge in a different location.”
So the Aviator business keeps on unfurling and, as Synnott says: “The objectives keep growing as the business grows.”