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Swissport boss: “We are looking for 30,000 new employees”

The original version of this article in German first appeared in Kurier, May 23 2022.

Aviation booming, world’s largest airport service provider on ambitious expansion course, criticism of Vienna Airport

Partner to 285 airports in 45 countries, 100 cargo centers—the global market leader for air cargo handling and ground services cut 20,000 employees. Now Warwick Brady, the new Group CEO since May 2021, is urgently looking for new people.

KURIER: First you cut employees on a grand scale and now you need employees again. That shouldn’t be easy, the entire aviation industry is looking for staff again.

Warwick Brady: That is one of our biggest challenges.

Flight volume plummeted almost 90 percent in 2020. The cargo business recovered pretty quickly, but ground handling didn’t—check-in, gate and ramp handling like towing aircraft and baggage. We had to cut our costs by 25 percent simply to survive, so we lost about 20,000 employees out of 65,000. By the end of the summer, we will have hired around 30,000 new employees, 17,000 of them for staff expansion and 13,000 due to fluctuation.

Do you need special qualifications to work at airports?

Yes, if only for security reasons. People have to be trained for a few weeks. For the first time, we have launched a social media campaign in the U.K. and U.S., where we are specifically recruiting employees in the airport environment. It’s going very well.

When will aviation return to pre-crisis levels?

Air traffic has been booming again since March. My personal forecast is that domestic and short-haul flights will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Business traffic will also return. Long-haul depends on fuel prices and inflation.

Swissport opened a new airfreight center in Fischamend near Vienna Airport. Why Vienna of all places?

We are pursuing an ambitious global expansion course. Our new 8,000-square-meter cargo center is focused on sustainability. Vienna is the gateway to the East. Airplanes and trucks deliver from the west, and we bundle freight here for our customers, who transport it further east. Last year, we handled 118,000 tons in Vienna, and we are expecting 130,000 tons this year. Since last year, we have expanded our cargo capacities in Frankfurt, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Johannesburg. We are also expanding in Australia, Korea and Japan. We carried 5.1 million tons of cargo in the previous year. That was already a new record, slightly more than in 2019.

Swissport operates at 285 airports worldwide. Which is more profitable? Cargo or passengers?

This year, we will make 25 percent of our revenue from cargo, a trend that is still rising. The margins are higher, but so is the risk. You need more capital.

At Vienna Airport, Swissport is not in the passenger business. You did not win the last tender and criticized Vienna for not being competitive.

That’s right, we felt the decision was not fair and filed a complaint against it. However, the court ruled against us in March. We will compete again in the next tender in 2026. We would also like to bring our expertise as hub specialists to Vienna. It is still common in Europe for airport companies to dominate ground handling, especially in Germany and Austria. But from a competitive point of view, this is questionable. It is not uncommon for revenues from other non-competing business areas, such as parking fees, to be used to subsidize ground handling. In the end, it is always the customer who pays the bill.

When will the restructuring of Swissport be completed?

The financial restructuring was completed by the end of 2020, Swissport now has large, well-capitalized international investment funds as owners and is rock solid. The operational restructuring will run until the end of 2022, we need very lean overheads. We will be operationally positive in 2022, just as we were in 2021. The further transformation into a more digital business should be implemented by 2024. The goal is more security and customer focus.

Are an IPO or a merger an issue?

In principle, anything is possible. But for now we are concentrating on the ongoing transformation, on organic growth such as in Vienna, and on smaller acquisitions.