Lorenzo Stoll, who succeeded Ashwin Bhat as the head of Swiss WorldCargo ten months ago, is the right man in the right place at the right time. The son of a native of the Swiss canton of Ticino was born in Zurich and grew up largely in French-speaking Switzerland, where he worked for Nestlé, amongst others. He joined Swiss in 2013 and now has creative ideas for the airline’s freight arm, as ITJ editor Andreas Haug found out.
You took command of Swiss WorldCargo (SWC) on 1 April 2021, Mr Stoll. How much fun is it to lead the cargo division of a legacy carrier in these special times?
They’re special and challenging times indeed. Last year again proved how important the cargo business is, not only for Swiss but for the whole world. The crisis ensured that I’ve been very busy since my very first day. My first priority was to meet all of our people in the various departments and to understand our business.
I was new to cargo, but not to aviation. Now I can say that thanks to all the Swiss WorldCargo teams that enabled my leaning curve to shoot up. SWC is a great team to work with. Simultaneously, the pandemic makes it feel surreal – it’s resulted in me only meeting a handful of my new colleagues personally. I want to change this.
What was priority number two?
My second priority was to meet as many of our customers as possible. Many meetings have been online, and I’m looking forward to continuing more personal encounters soon in this context too.
Parallel to these priorities, my focus has been on helping to guide SWC (and Swiss) through this difficult time. Cargo, as you know, is currently in a particularly interesting position.
We’ve been very busy meeting strong demand, and the ongoing necessity of bringing goods into Switzerland, as well as exporting them. We’ve played a vital role in connecting Switzerland to the world in these times of crisis.
How did you manage?
The ongoing crisis has shown that SWC can adapt dynamically to the circumstances. This proves to us that our strategic focus on a premium, customer and solutions-oriented, approach is right.
What impact has this interesting position had on your figures?
The cargo business has always played a fundamentally important role for Swiss, because we’re not just about connecting Switzerland to the world; we’re also about connecting businesses. In the wake of the pandemic the cargo business has become significantly more important. In 2019, SWC contributed around 11% of Swiss’s total revenues, while in 2020 it accounted for 40% of long-haul revenues. In 2020 cargo revenues were nevertheless significantly below the figure for 2019. We’ve achieved good results so far this year too, but remain below the 2019 level.
How important is the long-haul network in these times for an airline that doesn’t operate a significant domestic network?
Swiss was and remains able to offer a comparatively broad long-haul portfolio in the pandemic mainly due to sustained high freight demand. Since the outbreak of the pandemic we’ve also begun offering certain destinations outside our traditional network as cargo-only routes, including Seoul and Santiago de Chile, for example.
How are your geographic markets doing?
New services to Osaka and Washington DC only continued for a short while after they were launched in March 2020. When the pandemic hit us we had to adjust our network accordingly. In the beginning of the pandemic we managed to cater to the need for connections from Asia to Switzerland; in the past months we’ve adjusted our operations and offer connections to and from Asia as well as the Middle East, North and South America.
Last year, Swiss deployed three of its twelve Boeing B777s as cargo-only units. Do you now regret, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, having re-converted these ‘preighters’ back to their original passenger configurations in October last year?
No, we don’t regret having re-configured our ‘preighters’, as it also enables us to be more flexible in our aircraft rotations.
What are your expectations for 2022?
Over the years we’ve established a rather strong reputation as a trusted carrier of goods and products that require high levels of care. We can build on that. The pandemic, congested supply chains, and economic volatility were all determining factors in 2021, and will likely continue to be key in 2022 too.
It’s unclear what the specific repercussions will be for the air cargo industry and Switzerland. As for my team and me, however, we’ll remain focused on providing reliable, stable and quality-driven services.
And beyond that?
Digitalisation isn’t just the word of the day, but is happening around us every day. To maintain a competitive edge we’ll need to continue to invest in new technologies and platforms – as every other firm has to too. The same applies to sustainability. It’s important to provide transparency on CO2 emissions and to create additional options for airfreight customer compensation, including sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).