Managing expectations

posted on 12th September 2022
Managing expectations

After the very high tonnages and yields of 2021, one big challenge has been telling airlines it is not going to be the same in 2022, says Prithviraj Singh Chug, CEO of India-headquartered GSSA Group Concorde

Established in 1985, initially as a freight forwarder, Group Concorde has become a specialist in cargo sales and services, providing customised solutions to more than 30 international airlines globally, with 15 international offices and 37 branch offices in 23 cities in India.

How have your main air cargo markets (in Asia-Pacific, South Asia and the Middle East) developed this year?
For Group Concorde, Asia Pacific has become bigger, with online capacity increasing in the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia – both among existing customers, for example rebuilding their networks in the recovery from Covid, and the addition of new customers.
Examples include: India: Resumption of KE Freighters, DEL-VIE route; Thailand: Inaugration of SV wide-body flights, BKK-JED/RUH; Inaugration of QH narrow-body flights BKK-SGN; Philippines: Increase of capacity of WY flights, MNL-MCT, from 2/week to 5/week; Malaysia: Resumption of pax flights of VJ-KUL-SGN; Cambodia: Resumption of pax flights of MH, PNH-KUL – now up to almost 5/weekly flights.
Also, we got more offline business, which has helped us to grow our revenue and tonnage. Examples include: QH, AZ, TP, in various countries like Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Cambodia.
But pricing wise, things have been slowly going down because there is a slowdown in demand.
South Asia remains our biggest strength, because India is our home base and one of our biggest markets; therefore, in India the business is stable – neither growing nor going down.
The Middle East is very new for us; therefore, we are still building our business there.

What have been the main challenges that you (and the airlines you represent) have faced, and what solutions have you been able to provide?
One of our biggest airlines in India is United Airlines, and they have struggled a lot with cargo after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They have had to take a longer route; and the solutions which we have provided is that we have been able to tie up with multiple airline partners to move freight offline. Of course, we cannot maintain 100% of our pre-war business, but we are still maintaining a significant chunk of it. The interline carriers and the large network of United have helped.
For us, there has been a few challenges in terms of the drop in demand as there is a negative sentiment in the world because of the (Ukraine) war and inflation. There has been a slowdown in consumer requirements globally. Therefore, it is affecting the business of air cargo.

Have your airline and freight forwarding clients/customers presented any new or changing needs this year?
I think that everybody is very used to the tonnages and yields of 2021. So, the biggest challenge is to tell them that it is not going to be the same in 2022. I think that they had a great time between 2020 and 2021, cargo wise, and in 2022 their need is to maintain the budgets – and that is not possible, unless there’s another surge in demand.

How do you see these market characteristics and challenges developing in the coming months?
It is difficult to say, but I’m positive that – hopefully – the peak season, which is starting in September, will be good and will go on until the end of January. A lot also depends on how the political environment globally changes.

What are your priorities for the remainder of this year and next year in terms of developing or expanding or improving solutions and services to customers?
We are continuously hiring and adding people on board. We are also working on digitising our business to make things easier for our customers and for our airline principals. We also tend to be more and more transparent through various tools that we can share with our airline principals.
As far as the next year is concerned, we also plan to expand more in Asia, as currently we are not covered in Japan, China and Indonesia; but all these areas are under consideration for us to grow. We are also looking at Europe, but nothing is firm right now.

How do you see the role of technology in developing these solutions?
We are working on something which enables our sales tools to be stronger, but right now our product is under development and not ready. Therefore, we cannot give more details on it.

How easy or difficult has it been this year to hire and add people in your main markets – given the recent recruitment challenges this year in some aviation and freight markets?
It is quite difficult to hire people as we have a very specific teamwork culture. Sometimes even star salespeople do not fit into our organisation because we work only as a team. Those who are real teammates, believe in each other, tend to work together and are transparent with each other, are the best fit for Group Concorde as an organisation.

Is this a long-term challenge, finding the right people, because you have a very specific teamwork culture, or a recent challenge – caused or worsened by Covid?
Actually, we have a lot of people always looking forward to joining us because we have a very stable working environment, and not a hire-fire approach. That approach is only possible when we really pick and choose a person. So, usually, we bring them in young and raw and train them, grow them, and try to instill loyalty towards the company. Also, we are one of the better paying companies, compared to others in the market.