Ground Handling: One Year On

Cover Story Ground Handling: One Year On Faced with an intensely challenging market over the last 12 months, many ground handlers have spent much of the past year rethinking what services to offer and where, writes Richard Rowe By Richard Rowe...


Vittas is happy with Worldwide's renewed confidence in its future direction and says the priority now is to improve on a market image dented by past changes. "The market perception is not where it should be if we are to satisfy our goal of being recognised as the world's leading ground handler," he concedes. "This stems from the problems we have had in the last two years with transitional owners. But we are well positioned now and have the long-term ownership to show for it."

In many ways, MAG is in a similar situation, albeit not one driven by the arrival of a new parent. According to Conrad Clifford, MAG upper management feels that it has turned a corner from being a loose collection of aviation businesses to a major player with an outstanding portfolio of services. The trick now is to inform customers. "People are still surprised to learn that we have 8,000 employees in 25 countries around the world," says Clifford.

MAG has now strengthened its commercial team as it rallies around the Menzies name. Plans are afoot to rebrand its US operation with the Ogden name gradually giving way to the MAG brand by the end of the year.

Elsewhere, MAG continues to explore alternative ways to grow the business, including more joint ventures, and a different approach to franchises, rather than taking on all of the risk itself.

MAG will continue to invest where propositions are attractive, such as the old Ansett terminal in Sydney, and in technology designed to make existing business more efficient. A £2.7 million commitment to Hermes, a cargo handling business management system, is a case in point.

Importantly, MAG is only able to make such investments thanks to the backing of a solid parent, John Menzies plc. It is the kind of backing and financial clout that could prove crucial as the industry moves forward, believes Clifford. "Putting flags on a map is fine when you have the financial backing, but it's not a bottomless pit. At some point, the financiers will ask for a return."

As the industry moves towards the end of another year there is a growing feeling that the caution or otherwise, and long-term commitment, of financial backers could prove as influential as any management teams. Customers and competitors alike will probably nod in agreement when Clifford comments that, "The whole climate at the moment has reinforced our belief in technology and people."

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