The new Belgian cargo carrier ‘Air Cargo Europe (ACE) Belgium Freighters’ was granted its AOC last Thursday. Initially it will connect its hub at Liege Airport with New York (JFK). But its further ambitions are in scheduled flights to China.
ACE Belgium’s CEO Eshel Heffetz insists that the newcomer and its Israeli sister airline CAL are two separate entities. “The brand name for the commercialisation of our capacity will be
‘Challenge Air Cargo’,” he says. “We will offer our capacity to the larger players in the forwarding industry.”
The company is owned by a group of shareholders that are led and controlled by Offer Gilboa who also controls the Israeli company CAL Cargo Airlines. Apart from being Israeli Mr Gilboa is also a Polish national. This is important because if an airline wants to obtain an EU-status the majority of its ownership must be in the hands of EU citizens.
Interview with Eshel Heffetz
CFG: Will ‘Challenge Air Cargo’ act as a sort of GSA?
EH: “It is in fact a virtual airline, which will get the full 100% of our capacity at its disposal. We want to create vertical solutions to the customers, including handling and door-to-door trucking. In our hub at Liege Airport we already have our sister (ground-handling) company LACHS in place.”
He went on to say: “Challenge Air Cargo has also provided GSA services to more players in the industry and has already offices at several countries in Europe like France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and will open offices in Germany (FRA) soon. Next year we will open more stations.”
CFG: What is the motivation behind the creation of a new airline other than CAL?
EH: “The solutions offered by CAL were not sufficient, because of the system of bilateral agreements. They build the statuary framework in aviation. Of course, there is an open skies agreement between the EU and the U.S. as well as between Israel and the EU. But non-EU carriers (such as CAL) are facing traffic restriction between the EU and countries that have not signed a bilateral agreement with the block.”
Another element is political, Mr Heffetz admits. “Some countries limit overflights by an Israeli carrier. In aviation you have to fly as straight as possible. Longer routes caused by deviations based on political guidelines are more expensive. This may put you at a disadvantage to your competitors.”
ACE Belgium Freighters will start its operations with a single B747-400F, which is already at LGG, but still lacks its livery. The 28-year-old aircraft belongs to the CAL group. “From the shareholder point of view, we own all our aircraft, but as ACE Belgium Freighters we dry-lease the equipment from the group.”
Mr Heffetz, a former major in the Israeli Air Force and himself a pilot, is very enthusiastic about his ‘very experienced and motivated’ crew of 16 pilots, recruited in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. They were sent to Lufthansa Training Center in Frankfurt and FSC in Amsterdam. The intention is to fly a daily scheduled service to New York JFK beginning in two or three months, announces the airline.
“Now that our Belgian licenses have been granted (the official approval arrived during the interview with CFG, ms), we can finish our application with the U.S. authorities. In the meantime we are available for the charter market,” says the manager.
In the longer run, the company wants to fly from LGG particularly to the Far East, China. “We like to continue to grow with a second aircraft, but you have to be in operation for at least one year before an application can be filed for flying to China. In that case we will also have to present an updated plan to the Belgian authorities.”
Even if the newcomer’s operation is separate from that of sister carrier CAL’s, there will be some form of synergy between the two airlines because both use LGG as their European hub. Apart from LACHS, both companies will share their warehousing logistics and technical support with companies like Haitec and Sabena Technics. “We will use different providers at other airports,” says Mr Heffetz.
“From a commercial perspective, ACE Belgium Freighters’ strategy is similar to that of CAL,” he concludes. “We want to focus on complex products, elements that need a strong logistics support like oversized cargo, live animals, dental equipment and pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods and perishables.”
For Liege Airport, this new cargo venture will further drive the airport management’s “freighters first” strategy.
Marcel Schoeters at Liege Airport