Sustainable growth - AviaPartner

AviaPartner is not your everyday ground handler, with Richard Prince at the helm, the business has gone from strength to strength, with its customer-centric business strategy at the heart of its phenomenal growth story.

Over the last ten years AviaPartner has gone through a tremendous period of sustainable growth from nine airports to more than 70 airports today.

“One of our core pillars of our strategy is about continuing to grow in our current markets,” said Richard Prince, CEO of AviaPartner.

The company wants to build upon its success in Italy, Spain and France. It recently received a licence in Orly and next has Charles de Gaulle in its sights for 2026. Last year, AviaPartner achieved a significant milestone by entering into a 50% joint venture with Colossal Aviation Services in South Africa.

“It was the first time in AviaPartner’s history where we’re now not just a European company with our entry into South Africa. We are now a joint venture partner with Colossal Aviation Services and are one of two licence holders in the six airports in South Africa. For us, it’s the first step into a new continent, the first step into another potential growth story but on a sustainable and customer-focused basis,” he said.

Prince says he sees much the same pattern of growth continuing in 2024. “We are happy to go and serve in more markets. We’re happy to continue to grow and look at new opportunities. But again, we’ll do that in a sustainable way first of all. We still have airlines and airports coming to us today in different parts of the world whether that be in other European countries or Eastern Europe or in Africa saying, ‘Will you come? Are you interested? Do you want to?’ So we’ll continue the discussions.

“At the start of my role as CEO we were in 40 airports, we’re now in over 70 and that’s in four years. I believe that we could be, if it works for everybody, be at 90 or 100 by the end of 2024/2025. But again, it’s about sustainable growth, it has to be sustainable, both for the airlines, the airports and for AviaPartner,” he said.

Secret of success
He rebuffs any suggestion that the successful growth of the company is due to his leadership, saying it is largely because of the great team of people at AviaPartner, from the ground up to senior management.

“We are clear on the decision-making, we have 100% control from the chairman, and we’re able to then pursue the opportunities we have in front of us with all the spirit and good work of the teams that are already in the company. So it’s about the great work that they do and the great work that the chairman does, and the great work that people do on the ramp.

“When you sit and airlines come and say, ‘Well, we’ve not really got anything to say because we’ve signed a seven-year contract and actually, we’re very happy with the service and we don’t have any problems in 35 airports, it’s a real testament. That’s not me, that’s the individuals on the ground every day that live and breathe AviaPartner and the trust they give us and the trust we give them and the hard work that is testament to all of that.

“It’s our 50 station managers who every day sacrifice enormous things to make sure that planes take off on time, passengers depart on time, passengers’ baggage arrives when they expect it when they get to the airport. All those things are important but actually the most important thing about the growth, it’s about airports and airlines,” he said.

AviaPartner can be a ground handler for today and for the future

Recruitment problems are ongoing but are dependent on the market, he says, but the issue of retention is the greatest challenge. In the space of 12 months, AviaPartner has recruited 6,000 people but has also lost 6,000 staff due to the nature of the business with the early and late night shifts.

“It’s very difficult because of the work we do, and because of the type of work we do. So the people that came to do that job, even three years ago, are not staying because they can go work at Amazon and have a fairly stable job for the same money,” he said.
AviaPartner has taken action to counteract this trend by changing the way it works as part of its five-year safety plan to provide better working conditions and introducing innovations, such as lift-assisting devices to make ramp agents’ work easier.

“We’re committing to providing all of our airports with in-hold and ex-hold lifting devices. We’ve invested in mobile lifting aids whether you call it a Bendibelt or PowerStow – we’ve probably introduced around 50 of those into our company in the last 18 months and we expect to have and only be operating with assisted loading devices by 2028 to reduce the level of the work. Outside of the hold, we have exoskeletons that we’re trialling and using at different stations, which may look like a bit of a robot, but it helps with the lifting assistance whether it’s the assistance you put on the baggage belt where you fit the bags and take the physical load off or whether it’s like the project we’re doing in Schiphol where the robot lifts the bags and puts them onto the belt, so you’re operating the machine.

There’s 18 in operation today at Schiphol, and all things planned to go to 37. It’s been a very interesting project and that will be the future. So helping change the way the work is done is critical to bringing people into the work environment and looking to the future,” he said.

He believes technology will help airports to offer customers an experience while checking-in, in a similar way to how Apple shops now have people showing customers how to use a phone.

But the importance of service providers will be just as critical in 10 or 20 years’ time as it is today, adding: “But it’ll just look differently than it is today because the process will change.”

One of the company’s successful innovations is the self-service machines at Rotterdam that works with all airlines. “It’s one of the first bag drop solution technology solutions that can meet and talk to any other airline system,” he said.

Using technology he adds will change the way we work, the model and the cost. “The idea that self- service technology or innovation is going to drastically reduce cost, [in fact], it’s going to change the cost. The cost of technologies is just as equal to the cost of personnel, and the ability for technology to fail and go wrong is just as high as it is for people, a different type of failure and a different type of cost, so someone’s going to have to make the investments and they’re going to have to pay that cost, it’ll just be a slightly different cost and we’ll have a different process.”

Other ambitions
When asked whether he had any aspirations to run an airline in the future, he replied: “I love working with AviaPartner. It’s fantastic, it’s a great company to work for and an honour to lead this company My plan is to stick around for as long as as we can be successful together. I don’t have any aspirations to go and run an airline or to go and do another ground handling job. I love the job. I’m committed to what we’re trying to do here. I believe that AviaPartner can be a ground handler for today and for the future.”


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