ECS Group - Advancing with active role towards recovery & the future

Published: Monday, June 15, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has so far infected nearly 7.5 million and killed over 420,000 across a broad spectrum of people worldwide. Beyond creating a global health crisis, it plunged the world’s economy to unimaginable lengths with recovery still uncertain until a Covid-19 vaccine is produced.

The months and weeks of lockdowns in major cities worldwide to prevent the spread of the virus pushed business activities to fully stop resulting to financial upheaval, massive unemployment and a deep global recession.

World Bank forecasts the global economy to shrink by 5.2% this year, the deepest recession since the Second World War, with the largest fraction of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870. The global aviation industry appears to be the worst hit with billions in losses.

The blow is hitting hardest in countries where the pandemic has been the most severe and where there is heavy reliance on global trade, tourism, commodity exports, and external financing, World Bank noted, adding that while the magnitude of disruption varies from region to region, all countries have vulnerabilities magnified by external shocks.

Amid this, one industry, air cargo, seemingly underrated despite accounting for one-third of the world’s global trade, took the center stage during the pandemic, reinventing itself to quickly supply the world with vital medical supplies, food and other necessities.

Adrien Thominet, CEO of ECS Group, the largest integrated GSSA worldwide with over 95 subsidiaries and 153 offices spanning across over 50 countries, in an exclusive interview with Air Cargo Update, shares his insights on the pandemic, the air cargo industry’s expanding role and the Group’s increasing involvement in sustaining people, communities and livelihood as the world fights off its biggest crisis.

The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the global economy in unimaginable ways apart from endangering the lives of billions, infecting over 7million and killing more than 420,000 worldwide.

How bad was its impact on ECS Group and your clients’ operations and how are things now that countries are slowly easing up lockdowns and restrictions?

We are currently living in a time of unprecedented crisis with terrible impacts on our personal and professional lives. This period has been a time for introspection, for questioning, and for rethinking the way we do business. In short, our relationship with the future has changed.

From the beginning of the crisis, we at ECS Group very quickly put in place processes to ensure the health and safety of our employees all over the world, which was our top priority. Alongside this, we focused on business and on the best way to support our customers, who were also impacted. In particular, we concentrated our efforts on yield management and clearly, our home-made tools have been a real asset in this.

By working together hand in hand, focusing on the field, we have been able to limit the terrible consequences of the crisis as far as possible. We are suffering together, but it is also together that we are finding solutions. The responsiveness of our teams all over the world in this regard has been truly exceptional, as has been their commitment.

The future is of course uncertain, and it will depend to a significant extent on the sector’s recovery, which itself is intrinsically linked to the recovery of the world economy. But we believe in ourselves, and we prefer to move forward, suggesting new solutions to our customers in order to avoid simply passively responding to a situation that we cannot control, playing instead an active role in the recovery. That is why we are launching new services aimed at our customers based on our experience, which will help them to get back on their feet and to build a sustainable future for their cargo activities.

What is your hope for the air cargo industry and the aviation sector in general in light of what’s happening?

I always prefer to take action rather than simply hope. Of course, our aim must be for a quick recovery and government support, coordinated at a global level. But we cannot just wait passively, simply ‘enduring’ events.
We have used recent weeks to make progress, to learn from this crisis, and to reflect on how to emerge from it, which is just as crucial as the time of crisis itself. Economically, this pandemic has been a disaster for many air cargo stakeholders, but it has also helped us to understand our weaknesses – and so we have worked on addressing them.
The new services that we are launching are in response to these issues. Professionalizing each aspect of cargo-related activities by outsourcing them to dedicated experts as part of focused organizations is at the core of these new services.

Do you think the pandemic has changed people’s perception about the importance of the air cargo industry not just as an economic enabler but also as life-sustaining with millions of medical supplies that it transports regularly? Please elaborate.

Yes, that’s something we’ve seen. Air freight has revealed itself to be absolutely vital in many countries where medical equipment was not produced locally and the speed of this method of transport made all the difference.
The industry, once little-known, has taken centre stage. The pandemic has highlighted our ability to reorganize ourselves extremely quickly when faced with a crisis. Our field expertise and the agility and determination of our teams have been remarkable.

For example, to fight the pandemic, the GAC team in China, working with the GAC Germany team and our Cargo Ops Expertise team, launched the first charter flight from Shanghai early on in the crisis. Since then, over 350 charter flights have been operated all over the world.

We pay tribute to the determination of all of our teams in the field and their ability to organize new routes and new connections to respond to the urgent situation and meet people’s needs. In this light, while we can’t describe every operation that has been conducted, all of them reflect the desire to never give up.

All of our teams have been mobilized, and all over the world they have been extremely responsive. The most connected routes in particular have been within Asia, from China to Europe, and also from Europe to Central America. In particular we have transported medical equipment of all kinds, of course, but we have also ensured logistics continuity (transporting lots of perishable goods and postal products and of course purely industrial operations).

This leads me to another point: while we as air cargo stakeholders were already aware of it, it seems to me that governments and the general public have become aware of the impact of cargo on the world economy.

Around the world, ECS Group teams have worked extremely hard. We’ve worked in very close partnership with 16 airlines. Together, we have been able to adapt ourselves and convert passenger aircraft into ghost flights. In two months, we have worked on over 350 flights to help fight the pandemic and ensure the survival of people and their local economies.

Different countries and pharmaceutical firms are on a race to find the vaccine for COVID-19. Once a vaccine for the virus has been developed, billions of vials ought to be transported worldwide, how prepared is the global air cargo industry in your opinion to undertake this task?

We all hope that a vaccine will be found as quickly as possible. In my view our entire industry has demonstrated its ability to react, faced with the need for urgent transport. Once again, air cargo will be the only industry capable of meeting people’s needs in terms of vaccines, while ensuring safety and compliance with relevant health regulations (temperature control, etc.).

To take the example of ECS Group, we have proven our charter expertise during this pandemic. It is one of the ways in which we have been able to meet very high demand from our customers during this period, whether they be freight forwarders or airlines.

The pandemic has prompted many companies to focus more on tech-driven systems to keep their operations. Please share with us the latest tech innovations that ECS has introduced or thinking of having in the future.
Yes, this crisis – especially with the lockdown that it required – has revealed a number of issues in our industry and in particular the need for new technology.

Firstly, it has become clear that perfect management of all aspects of logistics linked to pharmaceutical products is essential in order to be able to play a crucial role in this fight against the pandemic. In addition to the fact that all of these new technologies are powerful tools that facilitate our daily work, they are also essential in managing activity.

And beyond these technical aspects, technological tools have also shown themselves to be a key ally in the daily management of cargo activities. The priority in situations such as these is to simplify operational agents’ work by allowing them to respond to demand in record time, optimize holds, and work in an even smarter way.

Having access to sophisticated analysis, planning and pricing tools has allowed us to remain effective. Our customers have been able to count on us at a time when cost savings were absolutely essential at all levels.

And it’s from that very standpoint that we have worked closely with our customers during this time to refine our tools to ensure they meet their concrete needs. Even before the crisis, our aim was to implement e-booking platforms. In recent months, we have been able to develop effective decision-making and strategy tools that are perfectly in line with our customers’ new expectations. And as such, we are all coming out of this stronger.

Apart from doing GSA, your company is also into full cargo service. Kindly share with us in details the different services that ECS Group is offering to its clients worldwide.

That’s right. We don’t simply offer our customers the traditional GSA services – we anticipated the changes to our industry and created new services as a result. We have long offered GSSA and TCM services. We work to ensure we always meet the needs of our customers better and more comprehensively by creating new solutions that suit the changes they are undergoing.

Before the crisis, we had already modelled the new services we wanted to offer our customers, which were totally unique coming from a GSA. This truly extraordinary period in the true sense of the term has allowed us to go even further and to incorporate issues linked to the crisis in order to constantly better respond to our customers’ needs.
As I said earlier, professionalizing all cargo activities appears more essential than ever before. You need digital experts who are capable of creating custom-made digital tools tailored to your own needs. You need to maximize your airline’s cargo revenue via bespoke analyses and a customized pricing policy.

You need to manage quality, safety, security, customs and all other purely operational aspects. In today’s world, a traditional GSA can no longer meet these needs. Expertise and flexibility are essential. This is the model that ECS has adopted.

Please share some positive thoughts that people/ companies should consider while facing this pandemic.

The adaptability of our teams in the field and of airlines, the determination to never give up and the spirit of togetherness between stakeholders in logistics chains and within our subsidiaries all over the world all prove that we are absolutely on the right path.

Progress is in our sights. We have had no other choice than to take an introspective look at ourselves. Now, we are continuing with our quest. We will need every person who is a driving force, especially young people.

The amazing capacity for resilience of the younger generations is an asset for our industry – anticipating, building, inventing and starting over to create essential solutions. I have every confidence in these driving forces and in their beneficial impact within our industry. Let’s allow them to create their own norms.

The second edition of the NexGenLeaders challenge is currently being prepared and we too will be NexGenLeaders! Whether it’s sustainable development, technological developments, more powerful solutions, or skills, all necessary transformations are initiated by the same passion: progress. And that’s where ECS is clearly positioning itself. ECS Group: Made in Progress.

ECS Group Invests on Digital Innovations

In the digital world, everyone can be connected to anyone, anywhere and in real time. And in the transport industry, this is extremely important. Cognizant of this growing trend, ECS Group ventured into three new services harnessing the power of new technologies.

Cedric Millet, ECS Group Strategy and Digital Officer, explained these new services—the Cargo Digital Factory, Cargo Commercial Planning and Cargo Ops Services—are perfectly suited for their partners and clients, all conveniently housed under the single roof “freight firm.”

CARGO DIGITAL FACTORY – Cargo Digital Factory seizes the opportunities offered by digital technology, and tests, invents and builds process analysis and optimization tools as well as tools to develop and implement digital solutions. The experts from this laboratory offer innovative and tailor-made solutions to boost our clients’ performance and optimize their revenue. Today, a number of tools are already operational, and others will be launched very soon.

First of all, our in-house teams have developed a state-of-the-art next-generation market intelligence and reporting system called Apollo. Apollo is a real-time system that combines market data and internal information, and is used for sales planning, reporting, performance monitoring and performance improvement purposes.

Secondly, for the airlines that we represent under a TCM (Total Cargo Management) contract, we have developed a tracking system (called PathFinder) with best-in-class functionalities, including advanced notifications and real-time geolocation of shipments during flight.

Today, PathFinder is one of the best tracking systems within the airfreight industry. For these airlines on TCM contracts, we have also implemented a range of solutions that ensure seamless connectivity with the various industry players, including handling partners and customs authorities.

The Group is on the right track in terms of digital and has made the necessary investments in the right specialists, with one objective: to innovate and perform on behalf of our airline partners.

CARGO COMMERCIAL PLANNING – It is no secret that all airlines are primarily looking for revenue optimization, and this is exactly what we are offering them with the “Cargo Commercial Planning” service, supporting traditional GSSA commercial activities.

We have designed tailor- made commercial planning processes (pricing, revenue management) combined with performance management processes (sales steering, load factor improvement, destination mix optimization), supported by digital tools developed by our Cargo Digital Factory.

We are extremely proud of our state-of-the art business intelligence and reporting system (called Apollo), which gives us real-time visibility of results and allows constant monitoring of principals’ performance.

Apollo also helps us identify performance improvement drivers, a key factor in improving our airline customers’ results.

Our Cargo Commercial Planning service also covers activities related to budgeting & forecasting and interlines management. It offers fantastic support in terms of structure and in terms of analysis, monitoring, and therefore decision-making processes.

CARGO OPS SERVICES – A team of experts dedicated to managing airlines’ operations and quality, safety and security functions.

This in-house service is one-of-a-kind and is capable of managing all of the following: Audits, quality and safety management systems, laws and regulations, and all aspects linked to network operations: ULD management, customs procedures, management of suppliers and contracts, handling manuals, handling supervision, and more.

Our teams have all the necessary certification, are constantly given regular training, and work with the very latest technology.