Çelebi Aviation – Laying the Groundwork
When Çelebi Aviation first entered the Indian airport market, the existing infrastructure left much to be desired. But the sector has grown rapidly. Çelebi Aviation has built a global reputation as a premier ground-handling and cargo management company, with operations in Turkey, Frankfurt, Vienna and Budapest.
Just over ten years ago the company set up operations in India, with concessions at Bombay Airport and Delhi. Entry into this market would prove to be a landmark development for the company.
“This is the first time that international ground handling companies were being allowed to operate through an international tender with operators in Bombay and Delhi,” explains the CEO of Çelebi Aviation’s Indian operations, Murali Ramachandran. “Ten years later we have expanded to all the major gateway metros in the country for ground handling, including Cochin, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and we provide our services to 65% of the airport traffic in the country.”
Today Çelebi Aviation is India’s largest ground handling company and handles over 650,000 tonnes of cargo every year. The company has invested around $200 million since it began operating in 2009 and continues to invest in the sector.
International Clout, Local Knowledge
Celebi’s success within in India is borne of an intimate knowledge of the local market and needs.
“We are an international, truly global company that understands the requirements of India as a country in terms of quality,” Ramachandran tells us. “We customise services to the ecosystem and offer very good cost economies to the airlines.”
Çelebi has been very popular with airlines that want to service Indian airports but which don’t have the resources to provide ground crews and handlers.
“Most airlines don’t want to set up shop for one or two flight operations, so they look for companies like Çelebi who bring in service capabilities,” Ramachandran explains. “We then discuss with the airline and customise our services to provide exactly what they need, whether it is passenger services, more enhanced or technical services, airside services or documentation services, etc. We do a lot of customising for specific locations. We create these packages for airlines and at the terminal level they can have different service standards.”
The initial challenge of moving into the Indian market was one of infrastructure, but the sector has been transforming at an astonishing rate.
“In India the largest challenge was infrastructure. We have grown along with the ways India has changed in the last 15 years of the Indian environment’s changing ecosystem. As little as 12 or 13 years ago our airports were nothing to write home about. Then privatisation happened and now they are best in the world,” Ramachandran says. “It is not just about services. It is about the ecosystem of the airlines and we play a critical role in that ecosystem as a service provider. Although we are a b2b company, we’re also clearly b2c. We bring very high standards of safety and security, and with that structure, we were able to bring all those values to the table. But this all happened with its share of pain as India and the aviation stakeholder were also adapting to the growth and demand of the market with strained infrastructure
This has been an exciting period for growth in India’s aviation sector, especially over the last five years.
Ramachandran tells us, “In fact, the last 60 months the airports have consistently grown on a month-on-month basis. It is exponential, so to keep pace with that growth, we have been able to adapt ourselves, invest accordingly and train people to manage these challenges.”
While the scale and depth of India’s flight infrastructure are growing rapidly, there is still a process of education and relationship building to undergo to demonstrate the benefits of large, accredited handlers such as Çelebi Aviation.
“The second challenge is that primarily handling facilities are embraced by international carriers in India,” Ramachandran says. “Domestic airlines are a big part of our market and they are used to using unaccredited, outsourced handlers. We have worked to change that and help them understand the value we bring in terms of technology, economies of scale, safety standards, evangelism has been a big challenge.”
Air travel is a highly capital and human resource-dependent industry, and so bringing people in who reach the high Celebi Aviation standards is another challenge.
“We brought the highest level of governance. For people used to working with contractors we have gotten a high level of governance and compliance, ensuring our staff are safe and secure and valued for the job they are doing,” Ramachandran says. “We brought in international standards of operations and a fair amount of training. Specifically, we are dovetailing services, so we require people to be trained well in a range of disciplines. We have training set up so that people don’t have to sit in classrooms and go through training courses to reach out to a large group of people. We are also part of education forum and college governance groups to bring aviation training levels up and ensure content is on the right lines to create a larger ecosystem not just for Çelebi but the entire aviation sector. Just by being present in these large airports we are encouraging higher standards.”
As well as upgrading its staff, the company is also upgrading its tools, technology and techniques to address their environmental impact.
“We recently invested in sustainability. We invest in sustainable alternate solutions and electric opportunities, spending close to 15 million euros to provide air conditioning and power to the aircraft so they don’t use their auxiliary power units,” Ramachandran tells us proudly. “We have switched our equipment to electric wherever possible. It is something we always believed in and are expanding green technology and sustainability.”
Ramachandran predicts big times are ahead for the company, and India’s air transport sector going forward.
“We are growing well. There are a lot of opportunities ahead. We have a big market with over 300 million passengers flying up and down. Over 100 airports are operating in India so you can imagine the potential for growth if just the top seven airports cater to 65% of the market,” he says. “Aviation will grow and when it grows people who are part of that ecosystem will scale up and grow as well.”