The ECS Group made some key moves in 2016 as it acquired a majority stake in the AVS GSA Group and won a general sales and service agent (GSSA) contract with Singapore-based carrier Jetstar Asia.
Chief executive officer, Bertrand Schmoll (pictured below) says the deals have enabled it to develop its network and grow in Asia, a key regional focus for ECS and both AVS and Jetstar will be strong partners.
“It is not just to get our flag in every country. It is important to have the best possible partners. With this acquisition (AVS) we have really good people who are well known, which is most important for us.
“The GSA remains local as the services are local. We want to have people who have knowledge of the local market and forwarders. We get this with this acquisition and AVS will be a strong future partner,” says Schmoll.
Meanwhile, the Jetstar Asia contract it started on 22 October gives it a firm foothold in eight countries and 25 stations across the region, and Schmoll says it “matches perfectly” with the AVS acquisition, which itself has a strong presence in the Asian and Southeast Asian region.
Chief operating officer, Adrien Thominet (pictured below) says in the first few months there were good signs and it will be good for ECS due to the synergies in Asia it provides, while the interline airline opportunities it creates will also prove “very interesting” which include with Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, China Southern, and Turkish Airlines.
2017 has already started with a bang as ECS has been awarded a GSSA contract with Finnair (above) from 1 January to manage its cargo space across six countries in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore), while it is also eyeing up an acquisition in South America, which is yet to be finalised.
Thominet notes the Finnair contract win will also help drive synergies in Asia and will boost business as the Finnish carrier has a strong network in Asia through services into the likes of Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. “It is very interesting and we are going to use Jetstar to feed into Bangkok and Singapore and then we can attract more airlines,” he adds.
For now in Asia it is all about consolidation for ECS through the acquisition and contract win it made in 2016 as the region is a long-term focus for the company.
Asia obviously remains a top target for growth in the year ahead, but the Americas is where ECS is looking to channel much of its energy into in 2017 with the likes of Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador on the radar.
Schmoll says it is building up a partnership in South America with local people who are well known and it is set to tie up an acquisition of a GSSA in the region sometime this year, which he believes will happen sometime soon.
He explains: “We need to have a global network and are in more than 46 countries and have the biggest GSSA network. It is important to have this wide network as we want to meet the requests of airlines and have global representation for them in all of those countries. We can only do this with a global network. We more or less have a wide network now.”
Thominet notes North America is also an area it will look at especially Canada where it has no presence currently, which also fits into the Americas focus.
Another major investment for ECS in 2017 will be in technology and it will invest in its own system this year, as it looks to meet the changing needs and demands of the air cargo industry.
Schmoll explains investing in technology is vital to manage the growing number of offices and to provide a total cargo management (TCM) for airlines it works with and ECS wants to be ready.
“We want to develop that (the system) and new technology is extremely important for us. In 2017 we will have our own system and we will then be able to provide this to airlines,” he explains.
As part of this technological investment strategy, Schmoll says e-commerce is another important area and ECS wants to be compliant with the electronic air waybill (e-AWB): “E-business is a key focus and we need to be ready. The business for the GSSA will change and we need to give more and more services (to airlines).”
He confidently predicts in five years ECS should be able to double the cargo tonnage it manages for airlines, while it is all about providing quality in solutions and services it offers to clients: “The word this year is quality, everywhere. We want to provide quality across everything we do.”
But how do Schmoll and Thominet see the air cargo industry in 2017?
“I expect the same in 2017 as 2016, and not any big changes. The areas the growth is concentrated is not the same. It is changing, but I think it mirrors where we are,” Thominet says.
He adds: “We expect South America to grow, Asia remains strong, Europe is mature but good and the commodities are changing with perishables, flowers and pharma growing strongly. We are optimistic for the year ahead.”
And Schmoll believes the US political situation with Donald Trump taking over as president in 2017 will have a bigger impact than any other political change like Brexit, He feels there is political uncertainty, but is positive about the year ahead, and says air cargo business will continue as normal, and is confident ECS will have a strong and successful 12 months.