Fueling on the Fast Track
By Michelle Garetson/p>
By Richard Rowe
All photos and graphics are courtesy of Swissport North America.
Independent service provider Swissport Fueling has thrived under new ownership and is now demonstrating its true growth potential, writes Richard Rowe
If ever a company has received a new lease of life, it is Swissport Fueling. Once a neglected arm of its previous owners, the organization has flourished since its purchase by Swissport International in 1999.
While much of the energy and investment in the company's old DynAir days was channeled into the larger ground handling business, the arrival of Swissport precipitated a sea change in thinking: for the first time in nearly 40 years, the fueling division received unequivocal corporate commitment to grow the business and sufficient financial buy-in to develop in parallel with its ground handling big brother.
Understandably, having operated as caged birds for so long, senior management at Swissport Fueling relish spreading their wings in the new environment. "It is only since the Swiss bought us that we have been given the opportunity to do something with the business and that is exactly what we have done," says Tom Comeau, President, Swissport Fueling. "I think their trust and faith in us was well-placed."
Today, Swissport Fueling may still be considered a separate entity, but one that has been welcomed into the family rather than treated as a distant stepchild. The division is a wholly owned subsidiary of Swissport North America, which also comprises a major ground handling arm, Swissport USA, and a cargo handling division, Swissport CFE. The whole North American operation, in turn, is governed by Zurich-based, Swissport International.
Swissport's sole fueling division may only be in one market, but it has chosen well. If a company wants to be big in fueling, it really has to be present in the U.S.; with some 26 billion gallons of fuel delivered into aircraft each year (from a worldwide total of 64 billion), the U.S. accounts for roughly 44 percent of the world market.
Around 85 percent of that market is currently served by a handful of large third-party players - ASIG Ogden Allied, GlobeGround and AGI - with the remaining market controlled by smaller FBOs around the country and airline self-fueling operations.
Since the takeover in 1999, the company has grown from something close to a boutique operation into a much larger and more aggressive competitor. Swissport Fueling now has a countrywide network of 11 stations (see map on page 28) and a market share of around 8 percent. The company is on target this year to handle roughly 2.58 billion gallons and fuel 538,740 flights. On time performance to date is an enviable 99.98 percent.
"I think in the past, we were perceived as a good, efficient operation but one that needed to grow before we could make the most of other opportunities," believes Comeau.
The arrival of its Swiss parents and the backing that came with it has helped change that perception. Swissport has since opened a major new station at Boston, while this year has seen significant new operations begin at both Seattle and Washington Dulles.
Business growth has been premised on the understanding that fueling is a very different discipline to conventional ground handling activities, and therefore one that plays by different rules.
For one, it is a highly specialized area. The responsibility involved in receiving, storing, and supplying fuel is enormous and considerable expertise is required to perform all the necessary quality assurance checks and fuel testing, even before the product is pumped to the airport and dispensed into individual aircraft. Training and time invested in people is commensurate with that responsibility.
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