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Ups and downs in air cargo handling

Interview with Christopher Licht, COO, and Murat Bas, CEO of CELEBI Cargo GmbH

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European Business: Mr. Bas, can you give an outline of CELEBI Cargo’s activities.

Murat Bas: CELEBI is one of the cargo handling companies with airside access in Frankfurt Cargo City South. We mainly handle air cargo on behalf of 16 airlines, including Turkish, United, LATAM, Ethiopian, Kuwait, TAP Portugal, EL AL Israel, Czech, and Ukrainian. This encompasses the whole operation in our own warehouses from cargo acceptance from shippers, temporary storage of general and special cargo, palletization on the export side and break down, and temporary storage and break down on the import side. This is standard practice for most of the airlines; based on their volumes, the cost for them of operating their own warehouses would not make business sense. We are able to leverage the synergies of partnering with a number of airlines according to IATA standards as well as the specific requirements and regulations of each airline.

European Business: With intense competition in the market, what differentiates CELEBI’s services?

Christopher Licht: One thing is our accessibility; we both talk to our airlines on a daily basis, and they can contact us 24/7, so decisions can happen very quickly. We have extensive experience and understand their daily operations.

Murat Bas: CELEBI’s biggest strengths are undoubtedly flexibility, which allows us to provide tailor-made solutions for our customers, and also reachability, which enables us to action customer requests and provide answers immediately.

European Business: What milestones in the company’s development have contributed to today’s success story?

Christopher Licht: CELEBI was founded in Turkey in 1958 as the first private ground handling company. By 2002, the company operated at nine airports in Turkey, and gradually expanded to cover Budapest airport in Hungary and several airports in India.

Murat Bas: I believe our success can partly be attributed to the fact that CELEBI is a very structured company with 62 years’ experience in the sector. To begin with, we only operated in Turkey, and concentrated on perfecting the standards which would later be adapted to different locations and markets. Istanbul, where we built a new airport from scratch and implemented new technology, became a role model for the entire network.

European Business: You both have extensive experience in the airfreight sector.

Murat Bas: I began as a leading manager in CELEBI’s cargo division in 2003, when the company had just one 5,000 m2 warehouse in Istanbul. It has always been a fascinating company to work for, with lots of exciting developments, and extensive investment in technology, equipment and training. I have worked at CELEBI’s different companies and locations such as India, Germany and Turkey in Director, COO, CEO and VP positions.

Christopher Licht: My background is a little different. I entered the aviation industry in 2006, working in cargo handling for several companies at Frankfurt airport and two different airlines, before moving to the world of freight forwarding as Regional Gateway Handling Manager Europe at Kühne + Nagel. Having already experienced and respected the company as a customer, I joined CELEBI in October 2019.

European Business: World trade can be extremely volatile. How does CELEBI deal with this?

Christopher Licht: A good example is the Corona virus; cargo airlines have ceased flights to China so capacity into Chinese destinations has plummeted; the supply chain is already starting to break down and this will ultimately have a dramatic impact on the economy. As a group, we are very flexible and can adapt. Our headquarters carefully observes world trade developments and undertakes regular local risk assessments.

Murat Bas: When our profits are negatively affected, we find a way to compensate by taking advantage of opportunities in new markets or new services. It is our global profitability that counts.

European Business: And finally, what are your plans for the future?

Murat Bas: Our immediate aim is to increase our capacity in Frankfurt; with this goal in mind, we are already cooperating with the airport authority, and the increase will most likely take place very soon. At the moment, we have capacity for 200,000 t a year, and currently handle 150,000 t, so there is still free capacity, but the capacity increase will enable us to approach bigger customers and gain market share. In particular, we want to be able to handle special cargo such as goods for the pharmaceutical industry. Another aspect of the group strategy is to target new continents such as Africa.

Christopher Licht: Ultimately, our mission is to strengthen our market position in Frankfurt, and demonstrate that CELEBI is here to stay.

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