It was surely quite a surprise for some when Olivier Bijaoui, former Executive Chairman of Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) turned up at this year’s Air Cargo Handling Conference last week in Brussels as chairman of the 10th ACH conference. It’s almost two years since Olivier stepped down from WFS and CargoForwarder Global took the opportunity in Brussels of asking him about his plans for the future.
Two years to think about the future
Mr Bijaoui has not been idle during the past two years. Although he has been out of the aviation handling scene since 2016, he has put much of his energy into other personal and pleasant activities outside the industry like acquiring a music school, a bookstore restaurant and supporting associations with his personal foundation!.
But now, he says, it is time to come back on board.
It is no secret that Olivier Bijaoui’s heart really lies with air cargo handling scene although he had successfully built up during 34 years the Worldwide Flight Services portfolio of airport ground handling activities before he left and made it into one of the largest handling companies worldwide.
The question remains as to how far he wants to again become involved in the aviation handling scene.
Shareholding in two cargo companies
Mr Bijaoui informed CargoForwarder Global in a one-on-one discussion that since his official return to business mid-August, that he has put his feet firmly into the cargo scene. The first step has been to take very recently a major shareholding in Paris CDG-based France Cargo Handling (FCH), part of the International Airport Service Holding and which took over Swissport Cargo’s handling activities in France. Here, Olivier has joined forces with FCH’s President & CEO and owner, Claudine Bonthoux who at one time ran his WFS handling activities in the USA. France Cargo Handling runs twelve locations in France and offers full cargo handling and trucking services within France and Europe.
Second step - Liege Airport where he has also just moved recently with Belgium Airport Services (BAS) by joining up with the very respected Peter Smith who was in earlier days Menzies Aviation CEO. Both have plans to concentrate on the future e-commerce traffic by promoting Liege for this purpose.
Not a bad start and he assures us that there is definitely more to come in the next few months.
What will the future bring?
As a pioneer of today’s cargo handling scene, we asked Olivier in a short Q&A to give us his thoughts on a few aspects of the industry.
CFG: Why invest in Liege?
OB: The carriers (air freight) like it for its flexibility, the personal service they offer as a second-line airport and more importantly, because of their plans for the future to promote air cargo, something which is fully backed by the Chamber of Commerce there. “It’s a good location to invest in for the future.”
And, why start up in France?
Simply because it is where I started, know my way around best and I see a good opportunity for France Cargo Handling who can offer fast and flexible services to carriers in France in the future.
Everyone speaks of e-commerce - how do you see this developing and your future role there?
There are many aspects of e-commerce which we could discuss for hours. However, it’s there and there are too many in our business who are still not sufficiently geared towards coping with what will come.
We as handlers have to step up to the challenge and adjust our services accordingly otherwise the result will be that the Amazon’s and Alibaba’s of this world will do it all by themselves. It’s not complicated but needs flexibility and new ideas as to how to ensure a speedy supply chain as this form of traffic will be a large portion of air cargo in the future. Another issue is the costs for handlers and the revenues they can generate. The industry has to get their heads together on this as it’s no use for example having a 4 cent per kilo handling price when volumes may be high, but actual weight not. Just one example.
Bloomberg recently wrote about the keen interest of Cerberus capital Management for Swissport while they were acquiring WFS. Do you believe such a substantial consolidation is feasible?
It is definitely something which may be feasible if Cerberus take the lead in HNA’s decision to rid itself of Swissport and address the possible Antitrust Department concerns. If you look at history, you will notice that this industry has always produced major consolidations and this one would certainly be the most impressive. However, I would stress that such a merger of two of the largest existing handlers could very well be beneficial for smaller handlers as airlines will weigh up the possible disadvantages of such a move and probably want to promote mid-size and smaller handlers services.
How do you see your business developing in the next couple of years?
Airlines are good at protecting their own interests and it’s to their advantage to create an environment for more competition among handlers, or even themselves go back to self-handling if the costing is right. In that sense I see a good chance for smaller companies who know the business well and who can offer the flexibility needed in the future which maybe some of the bigger guys cannot. A mid-sized handling outfit can surely streamline their cost structure better for mutual benefit.
The future is in being agile, and more importantly be ready for speedy changes in an industry which is out for a major revolution with the e commerce surge and in my view, “it’s the fast which will eat the slow.” What I like in this industry is that there is always room for innovative newcomers and today certainly more than ever!
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John Mc Donagh