Ambitious ACL Airshop is ahead of growth plans for 2017 and says business has “never been better”, Justin Burns writes.
The US global unit load device (ULD) firm’s parent is Ranger Airshop Holdings and its chief executive officer, Steve Townes (pictured), who is chairman of ACL, explains the board recently approved a mid-year increase in internal investments for additional ULD inventory, software systems upgrades, key staff additions, and other areas.
Townes adds: “Our efforts and results are more or less tracking to the resurgence of air cargo, amplified even further by the burgeoning impact of e-commerce. Our business has truly never been better.
“We have more ULD’s in operation during the off-peak season than ever before and due to growth of our global footprint, our net and strap sales have also followed suit growing year-over-year from 2016.”
ACL has added ULD stations in Hong Kong, Bogota and Tokyo Narita and Townes says ACL is growing at a “somewhat aggressive, though deliberate pace.”
He explains: “We are creating a more robust, widespread service network of locations because that is what our customers have asked us to do. Narita is a great example.
“We have a terrific team of people and our conversations with local airlines’ executives there have provided positive feedback. It’s an exemplary repair station with plenty of ULD parts inventory.”
Townes says ACL sees more opportunities in Asia-Pacific and in Latin America, and teams in both have opened more sites either directly, or through handling partners and this is why the board approved additional internal investments.
He says “customers’ voices” guide ACL to invest in new locations. ACL is eyeing another station, possibly one in Central Western Europe. ACL is set to add seven stations in 2017 and is targeting nine more in 2018, but detailed planning for next year is just underway.
At present it services more than 200 global airlines and some of the best growth is from expanding on behalf of existing customers, and while it is looking to add new clients, that is not the primary focus.
Townes says from the parent company perspective, the first goal is to make sure existing customers are getting its best efforts and secondly, it loves it when an airline switches to ACL.
“We solve problems for airline customers, we’re there when and where they need those extra ULDs, especially ‘in a pinch’. Nobody can fully predict the inbound chaos on any given day and that’s where we help solve problems. We want to be more than a vendor. We want to be a partner who solves short-term issues and also offers long-term solutions,” he adds.
ACL has around 40,000 ULDs at 40 stations and is at 40 of the world’s top 50 air cargo hubs, and is aiming to at least double in the next four to five years to 80,000 or more ULDs, at 75 to 80 of the top 100 cargo gateways.
“We are improving various internal processes and client offerings to support that growth, not solely investing in ULD inventory and more repair stations. It is a steady transformational effort, taking a long view on how we will keep growing and improving for our customers.”
ACL is in the process of upgrading facilities at New York JFK and is soon completing a site selection to have a newer and better ULD facility closer to the hub. At Amsterdam Airport Schiphol it will have an improved configuration of its multi-building facilities near Schiphol – ACL’s largest international management office.
Townes says: “We are consolidating all of our Amsterdam technical, logistical, and repair operations into one very large work structure and co-located storage facility there, while beefing up our existing international management head office there with new technology and more staff, to include a full ‘Operations Center’.
It is expected to go live by the end of September and should be fully online as a global hub for ACL’s logistics systems in early 2018.
There are challenges and Townes says the biggest is ACL must make sure it paces expansion carefully, because the large-scale growth and improvement efforts since early 2016 take time, and should not be “forced so quickly that missteps occur” and “steady growth is what to expect” from ACL.
Another challenge will always be people and it is always looking for “exceptional people”, adding: “A famous industrialist once said ‘Eagles don’t flock, you find them one at a time’ – that is how we are recruiting and building organisational strength.”
The takeover by Ranger Aerospace in 2016 has boosted business, mainly from capital availability via new majority owner Ranger Airshop Holdings.
Townes says ACL will have “more than ample growth capital at each stage along the way, plain and simple”.
He is confident it will close 2017 ahead of original forecasts, and go into 2018 with new momentum, better systems, more stations, staff, inventory of ULDs, plus broader manufacturing and supply chain capabilities, and predicts 2018 will be the strongest in the 35-year history of ACL.
He concludes: “We will at least double the worldwide network of ACL in the next 4-5 years for our airlines customers. But not just growth – also improved support systems, upgraded logistics management tools, and exceptionally well qualified staff additions.
“Our airlines customers will know what we’re doing to expand and improve, because in many ways, they have written our growth strategy for us.”