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Moving people for faster takeoff


“The COBUS is well known across the globe,” says Managing Director Patricia Vasconcelos, who joined the company in 2012 as CFO and was appointed Managing Director in 2013. “There isn’t an airport operator in the world who doesn’t know what a COBUS is.”

So what is this vehicle which, since its creation in the early 1980s, has improved the efficiency of over 320 airports in more than 100 countries? COBUS is the brand name of a range of buses used to transport passengers from the airport terminal to their aircraft in a distant parking zone.

Every version of the bus boasts the same key characteristics. The basis of the bus, unchanged from its early days, is its completely flat floor with a kneeling system; when the doors open, the bus tips slightly, lowering the step to help passengers to enter and disembark the bus more easily – particularly helpful for travellers carrying cumbersome bags.

In addition, all buses are made of aluminium rather than steel, so that they are not corroded by the chemicals which are used on runways. The buses are 2.7 to 3 m wide and can carry almost twice as many passengers as a standard city bus.

“The essence of our buses has always remained the same,” points out Mrs. Vasconcelos. “This has always been one of the secrets of our success.”

After-sales service has also made a significant contribution to that success. The company has a huge spare parts warehouse in Wiesbaden. Replacement parts are always in stock and, due to the close proximity of Frankfurt airport, can be delivered to customers within 24 hours, along with the expert engineers to fit them.

“We have six technicians, our ‘flying doctors’, who are always available and travel to customers’ locations whenever there is a problem,” continues the Managing Director. “As a result, we have built up an incredible level of trust with our customers. We are extremely close and remain in permanent contact.”

Although the basis of the COBUS has remained constant, it has been updated over the years to incorporate new technology. One development that hit the market about two years ago is a fully electric airport bus. Customers in Europe, North America and Asia have already chosen this completely carbon-free product. The layout and design of the COBUS have also improved over the years.

COBUS was the brainchild of two German entrepreneurs who designed the first bus, which was deployed at Zurich airport. Today, the chassis and motor are produced by Daimler, and the body is built up by Salvador Caetano Indústria. COBUS INDUSTRIES is a sales company, owned 60% by Caetano, with Daimler retaining the other 40% share.

The company employs 40 staff and turns over 75 million EUR annually. However, the position was not always so rosy. On joining COBUS in 2012 following the financial crisis, Mrs. Vasconcelos’s remit was to implement a restructure.

“After the crisis, the world changed,” she says. “The greatest challenge was to retain the people, to motivate them and show them that there was another way to do things. I like to involve the staff so that they know exactly what is going on and where they stand. We were in a position to grow. We achieved our goal, and that really pushed everyone. Today, we are in a growth market. Flying is relatively simple and fast, and passenger numbers are increasing constantly.”

To enable its global coverage, COBUS works with local agents. The company’s most important market is still Europe, although the Middle East and Asia are growing. “The USA is a classic target market,” reveals Mrs. Vasconcelos. “At the moment, they prefer bridges from the gate rather than buses. We are working hard to convince them that boarding via buses is much faster. In addition, the time on the ground between landing and taking off again is shorter when passengers are transported by bus.”

In the coming years, the company plans to diversify its product and service portfolio. “However, we always keep in mind that the airport will remain our focus,” sums up Mrs. Vasconcelos. “In the future, our buses will, for instance, be legally licensed for road use and be able to drive between terminals. Our ultimate goal and reason for being is quite simple: We move people.”

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