Exclusive - Swissport is Keen on Kazakhstan

The ground handling agent and Kazakhstan’s Airport Management Group (AMG) have signed a MoU, which paves the way for Swissport to take over the entire handling process at Astana Airport. First it will be passenger handling, ramp and de-icing services, followed in about two years by cargo handling.

Astana Airport is awaiting Swissport’s ground handling services  /  source: hs
Astana Airport is awaiting Swissport’s ground handling services / source: hs

With the Kazakh capital Astana hosting the Expo in 2017 tens of thousands of travelers will flock to the rapidly spreading futuristic city in Central Asia to attend the show. The lurking problem is that this sudden stampede of visitors greatly increases the risk of bad publicity for the airport and Kazakhstan in total, the government, fears, because the sudden rush of passengers will overstrain the local airport services. 
To ensure everything runs smoothly and to avoid any chaos at immigration, check-in counters or prevent baggage to be falsely handled, Kazakhstan’s Airport Management Group took two groundbreaking decisions - to call in professional help and bring Astana’s airport infrastructure up to scratch.

External expertise needed
Against this background Swissport was chosen as a partner to professionally manage the challenging ground handling activities to showcase the airport and thus the city in the best light. Even today, Astana’s airport services leave a lot to be desired. That’s why the government decided to appoint an external partner “in their aim to comply with international handling standards,” comments Swissport’s Mark Skinner, Senior Vice President Ground Handling.
What at first sight appears like some sort of development aid rendered by Swissport for upgrading Astana’s airport services should turn out to be of mutual benefit for both sides in the months and years to come if all works out as expected by the contractual partners.

Step-by-step strategy
According to the Memorandum of Understanding both parties have agreed that Swissport will take over the complete ground handling from Astana Airport. The cooperation commences on 1 May and will in its initial phase include all passenger handling services. In a second step, beginning at the end of this year, ramp handling and de-icing services will be added to the tasks. Later, cargo handling is expected to follow.
Next, a joint venture named “Swissport Kazakhstan” will be established with Swissport holding 74 percent and Kazakhstan’s government the minority stake of 26 percent.
Astana is the Swiss ground handler’s showcase project that could, provided it turns out to be a success, serve as an example for other Kazakh airports. States Mark Skinner: “We see a big potential in this market, which shows remarkable economic growth rates. We are looking forward to the cooperation with AMG helping to establish the necessary next steps for meeting international standards when it comes to ground services.”
Except for Almaty International that is privately owned, state run AMG is managing a total of 11 airports within the CIDS country. This is seen as interesting long-term strategic option by the handling agent.
Skinner estimates that his company’s start-up costs will amount to approximately 1 million euros. In a second step additional 5 to 8 million euros are needed for purchasing or leasing the necessary technical equipment.  

Cargo is a high-ranking topic
Swissport’s current engagement at Astana excludes any cargo services. Explains manager Skinner: “The airport company decided to enhance the necessary infrastructure first amongst others a modern warehouse for cargo throughput.” This will take about 2 years time, he estimates. Once this enhancement is done “we are very keen on integrating air freight services into our product portfolio at Astana,” he says.
According to him, Astana could well serve as a springboard for Swissport to capture some of the ground handling biz at other CIS airports, presumably Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. There, offering clients daily passenger and cargo handling in line with international standards would surely contribute to improved services.

Heiner Siegmund

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