Zurich-headquartered ground handling agent Swissport tabled plans to up its shares in Heathrow Cargo Handling (HCH) from currently 50 to 100 percent, acquiring Air France’s stake in the joint venture. The forthcoming deal is still subject to regulatory approval which is expected to be given during the first half of this year.
Local market observers assume that the competition watchdog’s review of the takeover is only a formal proceeding leading to the acquisition’s approval. If so, Swissport will be in full control of
the Heathrow-based cargo handler that was established in 1995 as a 50/50 joint venture between Air France and the Swiss company.
Was it an intriguing price offer Swissport presented to its JV partner which Air France couldn’t reject that led to the deal? Or did AF decide to pull out of ground handling at LHR altogether and better concentrate on its core business, carrying passengers and cargo, hence a strategic move? There are also voices heard that the transaction might have been influenced by economic uncertainties in the UK due to Brexit that might lead to GDP contractions and diversions of trade flows after March 29th. Be it as it may.
Interestingly, no reason for the deal is mentioned in a press release announcing the intended swop of shares. Nor did the JV partners add a price tag to the forthcoming transfer of ownership. “We ask for your understanding, but it is our policy not to disclose financial details in the case of acquisitions,” reasons Jason Gaskell, chief operating cargo officer at Swissport UK and Ireland.
HCH operates profitable
In their announcement, Swissport argues that the acquisition enables the ground handler to invest further in its air freight operation and service capabilities at London Heathrow. Mr Gaskell added to this that from a cargo perspective, the airport did very well in the last couple of years. He admitted however, that Brexit causes uncertainties due to the unclear legal situation and what impact a deal, or no deal might have on aviation in the UK and the cargo business in particular.
Customers should benefit from the deal
Currently, HCH is handling the freight consignments of United Airlines, Korean Air, Air France-KLM and Kenya Airways. There are no indications that any of them intends to quit the services rendered by HCH. This even more since Jason Gaskell is convinced that the already high-performance level could be gradually improved once the transaction is okayed by the authorities. “Because then we can offer our customers seamless services from one source.” This announcement is echoed by Luzius Wirth, Swissport Executive Vice President Europe, Middle East & Africa, who stated: “On the basis of over 20 years of successful business, jointly with Air France, Swissport now has the right setup to further develop and enhance its service offering at London’s Heathrow airport.”
In 2018, the HCH joint venture, with a workforce of some 120 staff, handled 150,000-plus tons of air freight, up 7% on the year before. Mr Gaskell did not make any estimates or predictions on 2019 volumes. At Heathrow, Swissport operates two warehouses with a combined space floor of 15,300 square meters (165,000 sq. ft.).