In March, John Menzies plc announced its year-end financial results for 2009. Despite a tumultuous year for the industry, its aviation division, Menzies Aviation, posted a notable underlying operating profit of GBP15.8 million pounds (about US$24 million), an increase of 12 percent over 2008.
As a company that conducts ground and cargo handling operations in an industry that felt steep drops in demand worldwide, managing to increase profit was surely no small feat. It has made several moves to sustain its profit margin — including the termination of some profit-losing airline contracts, reducing its workforce by about 8 percent and instituting pay freezes, according to the financial report.
But not all has been about contraction. The company has continued to experience growth, especially through ground handling and cargo activities in the Americas region.
As for its cargo handling operations (25 percent of its global activity), the year-end report cited a decline of 17.8 percent in tonnage. Add on the declines in demand from previous years and the company has grappled with a 30-percent drop in cargo since 2007, notes Craig Smyth, president of Menzies Aviation.
The steep decline in volumes was compounded by a similar decline in yields which led to some contract churn, particularly at Heathrow.
“When the volume comes down, you can’t do very much about taking out 40 percent of your cost base, those fixed property costs,” Smyth says. “So the bigger the cargo warehouse, then the bigger the damage.”
Smyth says the company has four cargo warehouses of more than 120,000 square feet, which have experienced the largest losses. Having reduced capacity as much as possible and flexing employee hours, he says, the company now looks forward to a return in volume.
“I think some of the warehouses have got a better chance of getting back to profitability and making a decent return on investment,” he says. “Other warehouses in more challenging markets where there has been more predatory pricing, the yield has fallen in the market and that takes quite a bit of time for the yield to come back.”
He continues, “Because of the massive oversupply in cargo warehouses in the world, you’ve probably got twice the amount of supply chasing the demand, so cargo volume has really got to double globally before every cargo warehouse in the world is filled. So it’s going to take a bit of time for the yields to come back.
“And if we end up with a business that doesn’t look brilliant, that’s the time to start looking at structural solutions like forming joint ventures or swaps with other players in the market. It may be something that happens in one to two years time once the volume returns and everyone has assessed where the yields and volumes have gone,” he says.
As challenging as the cargo sector has been, gains have continued to be made in its much larger ground handling operation.
While the company terminated some unprofitable airline contracts — a move that reduced the workforce by 300 employees, according to the report — eight new stations opened for ground handling operations, including Bristol, Stansted, Ibiza, Tenerife, Barcelona as well as Austin and Chicago.
Many of the company’s significant developments for ground handling operations came in the Americas region. In the US, its ground handling contract with Alaska Airlines at Seattle was renewed until December 2012, alongside 13 other ground handling contracts for the airline at separate locations across the US and Mexico.
In November, the company began handling ground operations for Virgin America at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, making it the fourth location that it serves for Virgin America since 2007.
And the US has presented opportunities for growth, even in cargo: Menzies was awarded three contracts at JFK with Aeroflot, Aerogal and Etihad Cargo.
Menzies Aviation has been awarded a 3-year cargo handling contract by Martinair for offline cargo handling throughout Ireland.
Neal A. Moran will be responsible for all the cargo operations in the Americas region — comprising 21 warehouses at 10 airports across the USA and Canada.