Filling aircraft cargo holds with cargo shipments: This simple business model, once launched by general sales agents (GSA), and which made them successful players in the air freight industry, has long since become history. At the latest since the ascent of electronic booking portals, the industry has been in a constant state of flux. Those who do not adapt to the new conditions will have a hard time surviving, predicts Adrien Thominet, the CEO of the ECS Group of General Sales and Services Agents.
Digital marketplaces for air freight are on the advance. They offer users booking exports 24/7 without time-zone hassles and across multiple airlines in real time. This data driven approach requires few labor resources and is highly efficient thanks to advanced messaging. And: it puts increasing pressure on the classic GSA model on a broad front. At least for standard products that need no special treatment. However, for special freight such as pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods, or valuables, for example, the digital booking system still has its limits.
Yet, “selling capacity is not enough any longer; the new name of the game is creating value,” states Mr. Thominet, thus setting the course for this industry sector. Asked how ECS intends to achieve this goal, the executive speaks of a dual approach. “Firstly, we offer legacy carriers a full-service package, which includes all activities needed for ground and flight ops.” Model 2 focuses on specific and selected services requested by clients. Analogous to menus in restaurants, he calls this an ‘à la carte’ offering, leaving it up to airlines which services best appeal to their needs. “We evaluate our customers' tasks very carefully and make them targeted offers for activities which they cannot do without, but where they are unable to add value due to their structure or organization.”
Low-cost GSA on the ECS horizon
Up his sleeve, however, he has a third option that complements the double-pronged approach: The launch of an own, virtual, low-cost GSA. It would be a reaction to the general development in air traffic. Legacy carriers, under pressure from budget carriers, have founded their own low-cost offshoots, such as Lufthansa’s Eurowings, Singapore Airlines’ Scoot, or Qantas and its Jetstar Airways, to name but three.
He leaves it open when this will take place, but it can be assumed that ECS already has the basics for this concept in the drawer. If realized, it would be a further convergence of GSSAs such as ECS, who are constantly reinventing their business model and filling gaps with targeted offers and electronic booking portals such as cargo.one, Freightos, or Webcargo.
Although technology is key to generating new business, it has its limits. What works perfectly for booking standard shipments electronically, can become a challenge for more sophisticated types of goods, such as pharmaceuticals, valuable cargo, or express. But this might soon change as electronic data exchange is fast progressing.
ECS picks Mumbai as site for its new Squair Service Center
Meanwhile, ECS Group reports the opening of a new Squair Center in India. It is the group's first facility in Asia as the demand for AWB inspection services increases. Airlines cannot generate money from this activity. That’s when GSSAs like ECS come into play, with instinct for new business. “There is a growing interest among airlines to maximize the efficiency of their processes. AWB auditing is a necessary, resource-intensive, but not revenue-generating activity. ECS Group was quick to recognize this opportunity for a new service offering and is the first and only GSSA to offer AWB verification as a fully-fledged 'capability' since 2019. India is the perfect location to expand our verification services as it offers a large skilled workforce at a competitive unit cost and increases our time zone coverage,” Mr. Thominet points out.
The new center complements Squair's existing station and its team in Sofia, Bulgaria, which has been providing both AWB verification and customs reporting services to international airlines in twelve countries since 2019, ECS states in a press release. In the long term, the sales and service agent plans to establish dedicated Verify support services for airlines based in the same time zone as the Indian Squair Service Center, in other words, target the regional Asian markets.
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