Variegated and dynamic
Swiss WorldCargo restructured its management of the overall American markets two years ago, when René Brechbuehl retired (see also page 22 of ITJ 43-44 / 2017), putting Hendrik Falk in charge of western and southern USA and all of Latin America. The globetrotter with almost 30 years of professional experience, the first 15 with Lufthansa Cargo, met up with ITJ editor Andreas Haug in Miami.
Mr Falk, how has business been over the past two years, since you took charge?
We’ve really held our own in the region; we’ve only faced volume declines in the single-digit percentage range, with yields staying approximately stable at the previous year’s levels. We even grew in the pharmaceuticals field. At Swiss we’re particularly pleased by our resilience in the face of cyclical fluctuations.
You’ve really got around in the world in the course of your career. What personal experience has been most useful?
I already strived for top quality in the early days, when I was still young and with my first employer. That attitude stands me in good stead now with Swiss WorldCargo, because the airline has established quite a reputation in the industry, and we want to live up to it in this sales region too. Many people have rightly ascertained that airfreight is a ‘people business’. This phrase means more in Latin America than elsewhere, however. Looking after relationships of many years’ standing is particularly important here. Sometimes customers in smaller markets with one or two big shippers accept it if we have to say no once, because we believe that we won’t be able to live up to our high standards.
Which markets are you talking about?
The economic structure in my sales area is highly variegated. The southern regions are characterised by perishable goods and are thus largely cyclical markets. We handle pineapples from the Dominican Republic that are highly appreciated in Israel; very sensitive flowers from Bogotá and Quito that transit through Miami on their way to the world; seasonally, we transport mangos and blueberries; one of our best innovations sees us shipping pitahaya / dragon fruit, which is originally Asian, out of Peru; we fly fruit and vegetables from Brazil; fish from Chile and meat from Argentina, including kosher meat to Tel Aviv.
On top of this we offer other solutions, such as our valuables services from Santiago and automotive options from Brazil, which makes it clear how interesting everyday business is when looking after these markets. We also have to ensure smooth operations in complex interline connections with partners. How reliable are they? Does the timing fit in Miami and São Paulo? How can we maintain a price balance during the peak season?
What overall role does your region play in Swiss WorldCargo?
Two of Swiss WorldCargo’s sales regions are located in the Americas. The others are the Far East, headquartered in Singapore; India, the Middle East and Africa (Mumbai), Germany and Northern Europe (Frankfurt), Southern and Western Europe with the UK, and Switzerland. As the market prices in the USA are lower than in Asia, my two sales areas together are only ranked second in the company, however.
Swiss is launching its first new long-haul destinations for many years in spring, to Osaka and Washington. What are the prospects in the US capital?
Actually, together with our subsidiary and holiday specialist Edelweiss we added services to Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City, Colombo and Cancún [see also ITJ Daily of 4 December 2019] over the past few years. It’s true that Washington will probably be more interesting for passenger activities, but the move will also open up new and effective opportunities for cargo services to and from the North American east coast, and for the Ohio industrial region as well as the South.
How bad a year was 2019 really for the airfreight segment?
The industry has two very good years under its belt. This third one was rather negative in many markets. It wasn’t that bad for us, and I’ve heard from many customers that one shouldn’t exaggerate the negative aspects either.
How do you think things will develop?
The beginning of the peak season has been very promising in the perishables segment, which makes me cautiously optimistic that we’ll be alright over the next few months. I haven’t observed a deterioration in the northern segment of my market either, rather the opposite – since October business has picked up a little.
What else makes you optimistic?
We’ve met up in the right place here for our discussion – Miami will benefit from our fleet development that will see us add two new Boeing B777s. This will provide this hub with more capacity, and see our activities completely refashioned for the Triple Seven (from the Airbus A330). Tokyo, another dynamic market, will also be served with B777s instead of A330s from February onwards. The new destinations mentioned above will then be added in March.