Turkey’s Çelebi Aviation provides ground handling and cargo services and carries out warehouse operations at more than 35 airports located in five countries on two continents through its affiliates and partnerships. As the company celebrates its 60th anniversary, ARGS spoke to CEO Dave Dorner to find out what the future holds
Dorner began his career at Monitor in his native country of Canada. During his 10-year tenure there, he lived and worked in the US, South Africa, the UK and finally Turkey. He eventually became global account manager at Monitor, advising Fortune 500 clients in the retail, telecommunications, banking and pharmaceuticals sectors.
After Monitor, he led Live Nation’s entertainment ticketing business in the Middle East and served as CEO of Biletix, a company that he had co-founded and subsequently sold to Live Nation-Ticketmaster.
Dorner is now an operating partner of Actera Group and serves on the firm’s operating committee as well as on the board of directors of Standard Profile. He joined the board of directors of Çelebi in 2013 and served in that role until taking the position of CEO of the group in 2016.
Along with its activities in 31 stations in Turkey, Çelebi Ground Services provides ground handling services at Budapest and Vienna airports in Europe and at Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Cochin, Bangalore and Kannur airports in India. It offers cargo services and warehouse operations in Istanbul, Budapest, Frankfurt and Delhi.
As Çelebi celebrates 60 years since its founding, what have been the biggest changes in ground handling over those six decades?
The rise of low-cost carriers has driven significant changes in the requirements that ground handlers must meet (for example, turnaround rates). The fast change in technology adoption by passengers (online check-ins via websites, mobiles and/or kiosks) has impacted the role of ground handlers in the terminal, specifically passenger handling.
Technology has also impacted operations in the sense that in the past, everything was done manually before each flight, whereas now operation agents can easily get their load and trim sheets through the server. Improvements in the equipment and procedures or processes like these have improved safety for our employees and our customers.
How is the Turkish market doing these days?
The Turkish market is doing better than it has in the past few years. There has been a significant increase in the number of passengers, especially from the Middle East and Asia. They have been drawn to Turkey to visit the various popular locations and attractions in the country. There has been a 70.3% year-to-year increase in the first month of 2018 for Russian traffic. It’s safe to say that tourism into the country is rising and is at better rates than it was in the last two years.
What will the Istanbul New Airport mean for your ground handling operations in Turkey?
We see the new airport as an opportunity to grow both organically and inorganically as it will be a hub with ambitions to reach 200 million passengers, once it has completely opened all its parts. By overcoming the capacity problems of the existing airports (both Atatürk International and Sabiha Gökçen International in Istanbul), we believe that with new airlines arriving, the current market will grow, while competition and quality will increase with this growth.
Of course, our goal is to get the most beneficial aspects of growth in the market. Apart from the new airlines, there will also be an increase in our number of services with an increase of flights of existing airlines. Therefore, our most important expectation at the new airport will be growth and quality increase, based on the competition, technology and infrastructure of the new airport.
In order to support these expectations, we have a plan to re-evaluate our organisation and to increase our employment.
As for inorganic growth, I can say that we know that the new airport is an opportunity for us, and we plan to do new business by taking advantage of these opportunities.
Do you have any specific plans to expand in the next few years, whether in Turkey or elsewhere?
As mentioned earlier, Çelebi prepares itself for growth, both organically and inorganically. I think it is too early to confirm concrete market entries or expansion; however, India poses an immediate opportunity for growth during the current tender stage, whereas Middle East, Asia and Africa are all in scope to further expand operations.
How do you think the ground handling industry will develop over the next few years – and how will Çelebi adapt?
Digitalisation will cause handlers to become more closely integrated and linked to airlines and airports forming a more cohesive information ecosystem. Çelebi is already actively addressing this trend and has several pilot projects underway. Aside from the digitalisation, we believe equipment will become more intelligent and will be able to assist and enhance both the efficiency and safety of our employees in the field.
Green technology adoption will increase and Çelebi is already working with its partner airlines and airports to lead in this area. For example, in Turkey, Çelebi is ‘green airport’ certified in many locations and has already demonstrated its commitment to the environment.
There has already been a continuous shift to professional third-party handling in the developed markets, whereas Çelebi continues to look for opportunities as well in new, emerging markets.
Looking at the aviation industry more generally, what do you think needs to change to ensure handlers and their partners/customers continue to satisfy the demands of passengers – both now and in the future?
The inevitable growth of passengers in the coming years is forcing airports to change their infrastructure drastically. IATA expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel by air in 2035, a near doubling of today’s 3.8 billion level. The double in growth of air travel is placing extra strain on airports that are already above capacity of handling the number of passengers that pass through them every day.
Airports and handlers need to focus on ways for passengers to travel seamlessly. One of the ways to do this is by handlers implementing new technologies and innovations into their day-to-day work. Some airports in Europe have already begun using robots instead of passenger service agents for check-in procedures and we will be implementing these ideas into our work as well.
We also think it is necessary to stay close to our roots, since Çelebi has always been 100% customer oriented. One of our main purposes when handling airlines and passengers is to connect people to what is important in their lives through friendly and reliable service. We don’t believe in completely relying on technology to satisfy the demands of passengers, since human interaction is still, and will always be, one of the most important aspects of customer service. One way we are planning on doing this is by making sure we are transparent with our customers through social media.
Further, we are making some changes in redesigning and repositioning our website and social media, simply because we want our customers to know how Çelebi is growing, what happens in our daily work and to be able to contact us whenever necessary.
Finally, Çelebi is always here to help passengers and resolve their problems to make sure they have the best arrival and departure experience possible, while on the ground. |