When cargo carriers are in the media, the names of the usual suspects normally dominate the headlines. In contrast, the Challenge Group is less frequently mentioned in the press.
Surprisingly, because besides a growing freighter fleet, its custom-tailored, integrated service package is pretty unique. At least, it differs from that of its many peers which concentrate on
providing airport to airport services.
Touching the fleet issue first: Challenge currently operates four B747-400Fs and one B767-300BDSF. The sub fleet of the latter will grow to 4 B67F aircraft by Q2/2024, thanks to firmly booked P2F conversion slots. In addition, four P2F converted Boeing Triple Seven freighter aircraft will enter service in 2025/26. Compared to today, this is a tripling of the fleet and thus of the transport capacity offered the market.
Wide operational scope
The group, founded by Israeli entrepreneurs, holds three Air Operator Certificates (AOC), issued by the Israeli, Belgian, and Maltese authorities. “This gives us a wide operational scope and enough flexibility to answer to our customers’ needs,” emphasizes Or Zak, Chief Commercial Officer of the Challenge Group. It is a conglomerate of eight units that offer the market tailored solutions ranging from aviation services, handling, air and ground logistics, charters, and maintenance.
Commercial mastermind is Malta-based Challenge Air Cargo that coordinates planning and operations. Once the commodity, size and weight, origin and destination, special requirements, and other relevant information are known, the search begins for the best routing, air cargo capacity, road feeder connections and logistics ancillary services.
Despite this broad positioning, Liège Airport is the operational heart of the company, which the Belgian airport has been for more than two decades already. From day one, the Challenge Group has been a major contributor to the success of Liège Airport’s cargo development, applauds Torsten Wefers, VP Sales & Marketing. “We are excited about the ambitious fleet growth plans of our home carrier, and will actively support this strategic decision.”
Concentrating on three markets
According to manager Or Zak, three target markets are primarily served by scheduled flights from Liège: North America, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific, with traffic shares of about one-third each. “This reduces the risk, because we are not dependent on the economic situation of a single region, which can become painful in sluggish commercial times or tense political conditions, and our mission is to be a key enabler for the global trade, connecting strategic markets,” says the manager.
In air transports, the company focuses on complex verticals. According to management, this is the share of shipments that fall outside the norm and require individual, industry-specific solutions. These items comprise gas turbines or aircraft engines, live animals - horses in particular, artwork, temperature-controlled goods, stage equipment, automotive products, and have already reached 55%. As three of the four B747 freighters can be loaded and unloaded by nose door, the Group offers the market the necessary operational prerequisites for these kinds of goods. Contracted road feeder providers pick up the shipments at origin and deliver the products to customers at destination.
“This is the value proposition behind the end-to-end product, where, as a Group, we have the full control of the supply-chain which is evolving more and more to multimodal business model. In Europe alone, this results in 1,200 truck movements per month. Each vehicle and journey is monitored by our control tower at Liège,” he states.
Charters complement scheduled flights
The CCO also points out that, in addition to scheduled flights such as between Liège and Hong Kong or New York (JFK), charter services are an important pillar of his company. “Each market has its own characteristics, but if we start serving a region, we intend to stay.”
Following the first B767-300BDSF entering service, flights from Liège via Oslo to Tel Aviv will be increased – a salmon shuttle from Scandinavia to Israel. The manager also presents his company’s roadmap to reducing kerosene consumption. Two years ago, the Group implemented a technology which enables the operational control center to calculate the most efficient route to reduce fuel consumption and, together with other initiatives, contribute to building a more efficient and sustainable supply-chain. “This target motivates not only management, but also our employees, and up to now the concept is working really well,” he lauds.
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