Mark Whitehead has headed Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl), a ground-handler founded in 1976, since 2010. ITJ editor Andreas Haug met the Brit at Tiaca’s Air Cargo Forum in Paris and learnt about common and differentiating regional factors.
Mr Whitehead, I had the opportunity of talking to Vivien Lau of Hacis two years ago (see page 47 of ITJ 45-46 / 2014). How is your group structured?
Vivien Lau is the managing director of Hong Kong Air Cargo Industry Services (Hacis), a wholly-owned Hactl subsidiary that provides road feeder services to and from mainland China. Vivien Lau is also a member of Hactl’s board and thus also carries greater overall responsibility in the group. Hactl itself is the group’s actual ground-handling enterprise – a rather complex one, I should say, as we look after the activities of around 100 airlines.
Is Hactl the largest provider in its field at the world’s biggest cargo airport?
That title is contested by us and Cathay Pacific Services, whose terminal is very similar to our facility. There is a third provider in Hong Kong too – the Asia Airfreight Terminal.
What are the main reasons for customers to chose Hactl?
Our well-trained and loyal staff is one of our key trumps. We employ our workers directly – in contrast to our competitors. In our 40 years of business we’ve thus developed a strong corporate culture with clear career prospects for all of the roughly 2,500 employees on board today.
Our information technology systems are the second-most-important element in our success. We’ve invested substantially in this field; the network is now run by no less than 120 specialists. I’d say that our services in this sector are unrivalled.
Innovation is sold as a USP by many a company. What has Hactl got to show in detail in this field?
Outsiders may consider the ground-handling business rather boring – for me of course exactly the opposite applies. We not only have to adjust our services to our clients’ ever-changing needs, but simultaneously also have to think far ahead. In this context I’d like to point to a team of six rather brainy folks who are independent and who submit suggestions directly to our executive.
Which airlines benefit from this approach?
Hong Kong Airlines is our largest customer. Our top ten clients account for 80% of volumes, the top 20 for 95%.
What are the challenges of the future at the Pearl River Delta?
HKG is set to build a third runway. We’ll see quite some bottlenecks in the next eight to ten years, so further growth will be difficult – even though the people of Hong Kong usually find a solution. Regional competitors, such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou, are just waiting to pounce on such opportunities, of course. Basically the situation here is very similar to the one in London...
What is your assessment of the airfreight business in general today?
The industry is very robust. Of course the highs and lows follow each other, that’s only natural. I’m optimistic though, on account of the e-business boom as well as of the many new passenger services with extensive co-loading capacities at HKG.