Airline alliances are now an accepted part of the industry. Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam reach out across the world in an attempt to offer their customers a seamless experience.
Although a successful strategy for airlines — with an economic impact that goes straight to the bottom line — the alliance model hasn’t really taken off in the ground operations sector.
Alain Chapgier, secretary general of Aviance, the first international alliance for ground handlers, agrees this is something of a surprise, especially given the benefits it can bring to smaller, independent operators.
“An alliance is a ‘third way,’” he says. “When we started Aviance in 1999, consolidation was very strong, and there were a number of global players such as Worldwide Flights Services, Swissport, Globeground and Menzies. As a small independent company, the options were limited. It seemed the only alternatives were to disappear or be bought.
“But we recognized the formation of an alliance could be an alternative solution,” he adds. “It was benefiting the airlines, so why not employ it for other aviation sectors?”
The roots of the alliance were formed from a tie-up between Alyzia, the ground handling arm of Aéroports de Paris, and the UK’s Gatwick Handling International (GHI). This fledgling pairing eventually grew to become Aviance, which today encompasses 12 members spanning four continents. Each Aviance member is financially independent, but adheres to the alliance’s operating code of conduct and service standards.
In total the alliance’s members have 21,700 staff, operate at 126 airports in 18 countries, and handle around 146 million passengers and almost 1.5 million tons of cargo.
The aviation industry has changed markedly since Aviance’s inception — 9/11, spiraling fuel prices and a severe global economic recession have all had a dramatic impact — but Chapgier is certain the raison d’être for alliances still holds true today.
“Yes, these are difficult times,” observes Chapgier. “The price pressures on carriers are being transferred to ground handlers, and they need to find a way to cut costs and improve revenue. Alliances are recognized as one solution.”
All around benefits
So can the ground handling alliance really be a win-win solution for all involved? Chapgier indentifies the benefits for members as threefold. Operations are enhanced through continual collaboration. Constant benchmarking exercises eventually evolve into a decision on best practice, which becomes the Aviance standard, deployed alliance-wide.
Purchasing advantages maximize available budgets. Acting as a single buyer, Aviance can negotiate volume discounts members wouldn’t have been able to obtain on an individual basis. Additionally, purchasing decisions can be optimized, with equipment pooling wherever possible.
Finally, there are revenue synergies — largely as a result of the network effect. “For example, let’s say our Spanish member, Flightcare, wants to bid for work with Air Algerie,” explains Chapgier. “Well, in France we have very good contacts with that company. So we can make introductions and support any bid through the alliance concept.”
Bob Gurr, director sales and marketing for South African member BIDAir Services, agrees that exposure on an international level is a major advantage. “Operating in a relatively small market, such as South Africa, is a challenge in many instances — especially with new entrant carriers who are already served by multinational handlers,” he says. “Our membership of Aviance enables us to make use of the numerous airline contacts that our members have developed over a number of years.”
The alliance model benefits carriers too, primarily through consistency of product delivery as well as standardization within the product itself — what Chapgier outlines as the “Aviance Difference.” “In short, it simplifies the whole process for the airlines, and our standard agreement ensures a defined level of quality,” Chapgier confirms. “They know exactly what they are going to get, no matter which alliance member is doing the actual work.”