Project focus: Supplier turned shipper

posted on 3rd April 2018

When GSE specialist Aviaco’s equipment needs to be delivered urgently, the company rapidly transforms into an air freight customer

When power outages hit the Comoros Islands recently, ground support equipment (GSE) refurbishment specialist, Aviaco GSE, was called into action to supply a high-loader to enable the unloading of generators flown to the Indian Ocean islands’ airport in Moroni aboard wide-bodied aircraft. And where its equipment needs to be delivered urgently, a company that is normally a supplier to the air cargo sector turns rapidly into a customer.

Aviaco CEO Danny Vranckx tells CAAS: “Around 95% of the time, we transport vehicles and equipment by sea, but on this occasion, given the urgency of the shipment, air freight was the only solution.” Aviaco turned to Antonov operator Volga-Dnepr Airlines to carry out the transport of the 31-tonne high loader, which can lift loads of up to 20 tonnes.

“A Volga An-124 flew into Liège Airport with a 10-strong support team comprising crew and technical staff,” Vranckx explains. “The operation required a customised ramp be built to pull the high-loader on to the aircraft, and Volga’s professionalism came to the fore in completing the loading operation in 90 minutes.

“Three days after receiving the request, the high-loader was in position at Moroni’s airport to handle the generators being flown to the Comoros on An-124 and B747F cargo charter flights.”

Among other things, for Vranckx, the operation highlighted the price “gulf” between air and sea freight. “Departing from Liège, the An-124, with its maximum payload of over 120 tonnes, burned a considerable amount of fuel – 12 tonnes per hour – before arriving in the Comoros, making stopovers in Cairo and Mombasa,” he adds.

Another urgent shipment recently, this time bound for Bangladesh, also saw Aviaco use air transport, but the equipment transported was smaller than the high-loader for the Comoros.

While Aviaco more often than not chooses ocean shipping for its transport needs and is a frequent user of the Belgian port, Antwerp, Vranckx underlines that with its headquarters at Brussels Airport and main workshop in Amsterdam, the company “is strategically located to meet urgent requests from shippers who are looking for air freight solutions. As the Comoros operation showed, we have a rapid-response capability.”

Logistics 4 You

But that capability didn’t just appear by chance; three years ago, Aviaco appointed 4PL provider ‘Logistics 4 You’ to handle its transport and logistics requirements. “It’s a completely independent company, but mainly working for Aviaco and in which we have a small shareholding,” explains Vranckx.

Logistics 4 You is run by Dirk van Belle, whose career includes spells with Danzas (now DHL), FedEx and Watson Logistics. “Dirk is a top-class professional who is very well-known in project cargo circles in Antwerp and has lot of experience of markets in East Africa and West Africa. He’s specialised in shipping ground support equipment and knows how to handle it with care,” says Vranckx.

“We pride ourselves on being able to deliver vehicles and equipment to any destination worldwide. Having someone more or less ‘in-house’ dedicated to securing quality transport and logistics provision is a key asset when you set yourself up as a company with global reach.”

He continues: “We don’t have a preferred 3PL, but make our choice on the basis of what we consider to be the best price for the job. We find there is some room for negotiation, but not much!”

Along with business partner Bart Kroonenberg, the current COO, Vranckx acquired Aviaco in 2015. Apart from its HQ at Brussels Airport and main workshop, Aviaco has sub-contractor bases in Spain (Madrid and Tarragona), Poland and the UK. It is planning to push further east, Georgia being one country it is looking at as a possible location.

The company supplies a range of aviation GSE equipment including aircraft heaters, airplane stairs, belt-loaders, baggage tractors, lower and main deck loaders, push back tractors, container and pallet dollies, airport runway sweepers, catering trucks, fire-fighting vehicles and buses to carry passengers to aircraft.

African demand

Two of Aviaco’s biggest geographical markets are Africa and the Far East. Aviaco also supplies equipment to air shows, Farnborough being one example.

One of its biggest current orders is for 140 units of equipment bound for airports in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “The equipment has been refurbished in several of our workshops and will be consolidated in the port of Antwerp before being shipped, aboard several vessels, to the port of Matadi in the DRC,” Vranckx says.

While the vast majority of Aviaco’s customers are airport ground services operators in emerging economies, Vranckx sees a growing market for second-hand equipment among modern airports in the developed world, including those in Europe. To service it, the company is working on a full service rental concept for long-term, short-term and ad hoc solutions, he reveals.

“This is the focus of our future strategy,” he says. “It’s a significant challenge but the potential is huge. Many operators are pondering whether the rental rather than the purchase of equipment is a better option. Most handling licenses are five to seven years in duration and with uncertainty over renewal, there is a natural reluctance to invest.”

Aviaco’s full service rental concept “has the support of a major financial group”, Vranckx reveals, adding that the company is already renting equipment in several countries such as France, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK.