Swissport wants to help TAP improve the hub and make Lisbon grow
The original version of this article in Portuguese first appeared in Expresso, May 13 2022.
The Swiss company can support the creation of a hub at the new airport and keep TAP at Groundforce with Portuguese management
A world leader in airport services, Swissport knows Groundforce well, having studied it in detail during the first months of 2021 when negotiations with Alfredo Casimiro began for the purchase of a 51% share held by the entrepreneur. The deal was not completed, but the interest of the Swiss multinational hub management (turnaround and servicing of flights) specialist remained. With operations in 285 airports spread across six continents and 45 countries, Swissport now wants to enter Portugal. “We operate around 80 airports in Europe and we will grow to 100 next year. We look forward for Lisbon, Porto, Faro to be among them...We would love to be part of the Portuguese aviation sector, make first-class airports, and improve the experience of flying from Portugal,” says Warwick Brady, CEO of Swissport International AG, in an interview with Express.
Brady presents his experience in managing hubs as a trump card, an issue of high priority for TAP. “We have a lot of experience in terms of connectivity. We have a lot of knowledge in hub management strategy. We have been responsible for managing large hubs for many years, even decades,” he emphasizes. He exemplifies: “We have the Lufthansa hub in Munich, we have large hubs in the US and South America, where we work with Azul in Viracopos [Campinas, São Paulo].” Swissport, says Brady, can improve the connectivity of the Lisbon hub.
TAP as an ally
Competing for the purchase of Groundforce with National Aviation Services (NAS), its counterpart in Kuwait, Swissport says that there are opportunities for growth in Portugal. “We are here to invest for the long term in the country's growth. We invest a lot in technology, in training workers, in improving management,” he adds. Brady says that Swissport sees TAP — which owns 49.9% of Groundforce — as an ally and is open to keeping it as a partner, or, if it is an option of the Portuguese government, to taking over the entire capital. “If TAP wants to keep its position and holding [at Groundforce], no problem, we would be happy with that. We have several partners around the world. We just want to manage the business,” assures the executive, noting that he works with the Portuguese carrier at 26 airports. “We can be a great partner of TAP to make Lisbon grow,” he says. Swissport, he continues, works with 98% of the carriers that fly to Portugal. “We will bring quality service to Portugal. We know how to work with the airport and with large companies like TAP, and we can help make them more punctual,” he says.
Putting money where it's needed
Without revealing values, Brady says the purchase will be made in cash. “We are very strong financially, and we have strong shareholders,” he underlines. The executive guarantees that his shareholders — large investment funds, most of them North American — support the business, and one of them has already come to Portugal to learn about the operation. The largest shareholder is Strategic Value Partners, followed by Ares Management and TowerBrook Capital Partners. Warwick Brady, CEO of Swissport since May 2021, knows the country as a tourist and has visited Portugal a few times in this regard. He acknowledges that there will be Portuguese management from Groundforce. “We have several Portuguese people working with us. We believe that local management is important. We want strong Portuguese management. And as we are a global company, we also have opportunities for Portuguese managers to develop their careers outside the country,” notes Brady, who started out as a pilot and has already managed airlines (easyJet and Ryanair) and airports.
Brady doesn't specify the number of workers he'll need, but says that if he wants to grow, he will hire more people. “We have a strong commitment to workers. We have a training academy. We invest a lot in its development,” he says. He adds: “We have a history of cooperation and partnerships with unions around the world. Groundforce is a good company. Workers are committed. They work a lot.”
Brady also said that Swissport wants to put money where it makes the most difference to improve operations. “We are big, we have scale and experience. We will operate very efficiently in Lisbon,” he promises. And he says he hopes to have synergies in sharing management and back office. “We can improve the way people work, the way we manage check-in, and how we manage ports. We have great experience worldwide in the cargo area.” Swissport is also available to support the construction of the new airport. “We would love to be involved in planning the new infrastructure. It would be interesting to help plan the creation of an efficient hub.” He exemplifies: “It is important to understand how passengers move, how check-in works faster or where we place our teams.”
285 is the number of airports Swissport services. The company has operations on all continents and is present in 45 countries.
850 is the number of Swissport’s clients. In 2021, a year heavily marked by the pandemic, it served 97 million passengers, 2 million flights, and 5.1 million tons of cargo. The company currently employs 45 thousand workers.