Interview with Gerold Tumulka, CEO of Swissport Middle East
In this video, Gerold Tumulka, CEO of Swissport Middle East, is interviewed by Fethi Chebil, Airport PPP Expert. Together, they discuss the impact of COVID-19 on ground handlers and the outlook for the ground handling business in the future.
In this video interview, Fethi Chebil, Airport Public Private Partnership (PPP) Expert, speaks with Gerold Tumulka, CEO of Swissport Middle East. Together they discuss the impact of COVID-19 on ground handlers and the outlook for the ground handling business in the future.
During the interview, Chebil and Tumulka reflect on the past year, with Tumulka saying that the Middle East’s response to COVID-19 was rather swift. Within a couple of days of the announcement of the pandemic the borders were closed, flights suspended, and testing introduced. He says that at the worst of times, average cargo and passenger volumes were down around 80 per cent, although they have recovered somewhat up until now. Fortunately, cargo has remained largely unaffected because cargo deliveries needed to continue. Passenger flights had seats removed to allow for cargo to be installed inside the passenger cabin. Passenger volumes are still subdued and Tumulka expects it will remain so until the end of Ramadan – which is until May.
Tumulka goes on to say that unlike Europe, the Middle East never opened up travel for the short period for summer 2020 and for Christmas – bar Dubai who did so for a short stint. But the Middle East in general has remained very much closed during the whole pandemic. As a result, the number of infections in Middle East compared to Europe remained significantly lower, but the economies and air transport paid a terrible price for that, said Tumulka. Unfortunately for Swissport, they had to downgrade operations slightly in some countries to weather the storm of COVID-19 with furlough schemes.
They discuss the measures that Swissport has taken to tackle COVID-19, but Tumulka says that they must differentiate between what public opinion is demanding and what the regulators are demanding.
The Saudi market
Swissport, which serves over 300 airports, won the tender from Saudi government at end of 2015. They have since expanded to four airports in Saudi Arabia. The company has restructured their finances and has a different ownership structure, with Warwick Brady as new Group CEO of Swissport International. Tumulka went on to say that the company has come out of the pandemic in a better position than when they entered it.
Chebil and Tumulka discuss the rise of a seamless travel experience and how ground handlers are a key element in this experience. Tumulka states that the drive in digitalisation has come in the past few years with online check in, contactless payment and self-service were already in place prior to COVID-19, but that the pandemic has certainly precipitated its acceleration in adoption.
Seamless travel helps to rebuild passenger confidence in travel and airports need to assure that their airports are safe to use. Tumulka says that Swissport has pioneered the use of self-service kiosks in cargo facilities for shippers to do their own documentation, which speeds up the process dramatically and reduces waiting times. Tumulka predicts passenger convenience will lead airport strategy and questions whether passengers will be willing to pay for certain level of increased convenience. However, he goes on to say that the service provider cannot handle this alone; the airport, service provider and airline needs to work together to be more coordinated on queue control, the number of people in certain spaces at check-in and security points etc. The private space of the individual has become more valuable due to health considerations and the implications of this are very interesting. Watch the video to find out more.
Dr. Fethi Chebil has over 25 years of experience in aviation and airport privatisation. In 2007, he held the office of Vice President within SNC-Lavalin, an executive management and board member position. His objective in this role was on developing P3 airport business, structuring financing and partnerships. After that he was engaged with ICAO, an International United Nations (UN) organisation, mainly as an advisor on airport privatisation and regulatory compliance. He planned and directed business activities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), sub-Saharan African countries, North and Central America, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Mongolia. Since 2018, Chebil has been acting as Lender Advisor, Sponsor Representative and/or ICAO expert for different P3 airport projects in MENA. Chebil is fluent in English, French and Arabic, and speaks basic Russian.
Gerold A. Tumulka has accumulated nearly 33 years of experience in air transport. He has held executive management positions in four continents including Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Aerodrome Accountable Manager of Friedrichshafen International Airport (FDH) between 2012-2015, and Chief Operating Officer of National Aviation Services (NAS) between 2015-2018. Gerold is currently CEO of Swissport Middle East in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.