• Photo: Challenge Group

07.02.2023 By: Andreas Haug

Artikel Nummer: 43817

Challenges require solutions

In conversation with Challenge Group CEO Yossi Shoukroun. As a conglomerate, Challenge Group only came on the scene in 2020, but the holding’s components, which manage every link in the air cargo supply chain, date back to the 1970s. A third cargo airline, Challenge Airlines MT, was added last year. CEO Yossi Shoukroun gave ITJ editor Andreas Haug details of what the group offers and what its plans are for the near future when they met in Miami recently.

Since 2003 you’ve been in charge of some of the entities that make up Challenge Group, Mr Shoukroun. Can you please provide us with a short overview?

Airfreight is our core business. We have three airlines with AOCs in three countries. They are Challenge Airlines IL, the former CAL Cargo Airlines, which was founded in Tel Aviv in 1976. I was COO there from 2015 to 2021. Then there is Challenge Airlines BE, with its hub in Liège, and Challenge Airlines MT, just a few months old and based in Malta.

There’s more to Challenge Group than these airlines, however. The leasing arm Challenge Aviation is behind the airlines. In addition, Challenge Handling (CH), which evolved from Liège Air Cargo Handling Services, founded in 1997, operates the largest cargo terminal at Liège airport. I’ve worked for CH since 2003, as managing director since 2006.

Challenge Logistics is also based in Liège, from where we offer a pan-European RFS network. In addition, we run road services in the USA. The MRO business unit Challenge Technic, based in Reykjavík, rounds off our range of activities.

Would you say that the group was consolidated at exactly the right time?

We’re very experienced, and during the pandemic, with ports congested and facing many other new challenges, we saw that the market appreciates our diverse range of services from a single source.

It’s not enough for us just to fly goods to and from Liège. We add value by sorting shipments with a house AWB and ensuring their onward distribution by truck throughout Europe, for example. Our integrated end-to-end services aren’t new, but their importance was reaffirmed and strengthened by the Covid-19 experience.

What’s the advantage of serving the market with three airlines?

The advantages lie primarily in the flexibility that different rights in each country provide our worldwide operations with.

Where does the group operate today?

From Liège we fly mainly to the USA, namely to JFK, Atlanta and Houston; and to China, where we serve Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Hong Kong. We also link up Dubai, Sharjah and, of course, Israel. And we also fly seasonally to Oslo and Larnaca, where we’re the only full-freighter operator.

What services do you offer?

In addition to general cargo we offer complex services, thanks to our synergies. This is shown by the group’s Iata certificates – CEIV Pharma, CEIV Live Animals and CEIV Fresh.

What aircraft do you deploy?

Our fleet consists of four Boeing B747Fs and four B767s, which we’re converting into freighters. We expect the first one in April and the next three in the course of 2023. After that, we want to convert four B777s, for which we already have slots. By the end of 2026, we’ll have twelve freighters – or even more!

Who’s your partner for conversions?

We collaborate with IAI. For the B767, we’re the launch customer for its new conversion line in Belgrade [see also box on page 19 of our Aviation Special in ITJ 45-46/2022]. The Triple Sevens, on the other hand, will be converted in Israel.

Where else is Challenge Group expecting to operate this year?

We hope to establish a second hub in 2023. We’re looking at three US locations for this – but not in our existing stations, which we also expect will grow.

The Challenge Group in 2023 – 240 t of Turkish exports a week

Istanbul has become Challenge Group’s first new destination in 2023. On 25 January it started twice-weekly links between the metropolis on the Bosphorus and the Belgian cargo hub Liège – from where it also offers links to the rest of Europe, the USA and the Far East. It will deploy Boeing B747Fs with a weekly capacity of 240 t.

The cargo is likely to consist of textiles and car parts. Challenge Group’s commercial vice-president Or Zak underlined the fact that “Istanbul is a perfect pioneer for our eastward expansion.”

You can meet Or Zak – and the ITJ – at the Iata World Cargo Symposium, scheduled for 25–27 April this year in Istanbul.


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