WFS not likely to remain still for long

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Consolidation of air cargo handling agents is happening with one of the main protagonists, and Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) president and chief executive officer, Olivier Bijaoui tells Air Cargo Week (ACW): “I’m doing it in fact.”

Despite WFS’s high profile role as a consolidator Bijaoui takes a qualified view of it. “Some consolidation is taking place” he says. He believes the process is not coming to an end soon but won’t say what the next step of WFS’s own plans, just immediate ones.

The company is going through a phase of aggressive expansion either via organic growth or acquiring companies. The coming year might be as busy as the last 18 months have been for WFS.

With a strong profile in Europe and North America, although as the recent acquisition of 51 per cent of Fraport Cargo Services (FCS) proves, WFS is not likely to remain still for long anywhere, much of the action has been elsewhere.

Africa is one particular focus with openings over the past two years in South Africa, Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. “We are also focused on Africa,” acknowledges Bijioui, who adds this was tempered by an aversion to political risk in some countries.

There has been work in the star of the emerging markets class, Brazil. Here WFS bought Orbital, giving it a claim in 19 airports in that huge and rising country. The plan is to use it to develop a platform in Brazil and South America, Bijaoui tells ACW.  Even the European market has been developed with five Italian airports and five new licences in Spain including Madrid.

The position is less buoyant is Asia. The operations here are limited to Singapore, New Delhi and Hong Kong. Something which is not really WFS’s fault. “We haven’t had much opportunity in Asia” Bijaoui says adding: “The cargo market in the region is not easy to penetrate.”

What is curious is while the plans are for more, and seemingly lots of it, and the focus on developing  new destinations and airlines, Bijaoui does not exude great confidence about 2016. Maybe it’s a time and a place issue Paris in late November has other things to think on. Bijaoui’s view of the market is fairly neutral “I don’t really look on it with concern,” he says.

Partly it’s a reflection of this year. “We moved around 4.2 million tonnes which compares to last year in terms of volumes,” Bijaoui says. He notices what others did in some markets did better than others whilst others dipped. “There was little slowdown out of Asia, North America has held OK, we have seen some progress on volumes on the Middle East carriers” he says.

Within this part he is sceptical about fears of a China slowdown: “I am not very concerned. Its not as bad as people would like to see,” he says pointing out people were getting used to China booming along, usually at eight per cent which makes this year’s five to six per cent seem worrying when a couple of years back that figure would have set pulses racing.

What he flags as more vital is China’s middle class whose willingness to spend is what people like to hear, being stable. “There is a growth of middle class so exports to China are not bad at all,” he says. A comment maybe for this year, next and the years ahead.