Let's go

Offering next-day delivery to almost every UK postcode, on products from both AO and selected third-party clients, AO Logistics sets itself apart through exemplary customer service

Today acting as the logistics arm for AO, the online electricals store, AO Logistics was born after the acquisition of the two-person delivery company, Expert Logistics, in 2009. As David Ashwell, MD of the firm explained, the business now provides next day delivery, allocated time slots and a service that covers 98 per cent of UK postcodes, seven days a week. “Our head office is in Crewe, alongside three distribution centres Alpha, Omega and Latchford,” he added. “We now have over 1.3 million sq ft of warehousing space and a AO 1network of 23 outbases, with new warehouses recently opened in Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent. We have over 1100 vans in our fleet, spread across the country at our distribution centres and depots, and every year, they drive over 500,000 miles around the country, delivering everything from a dining table to a fridge freezer to over three million customers.”

David continued with some more details about the services that AO Logistics provides. “We can take care of everything for customers on the day of delivery, whether that’s disconnecting the old product, installing the new arrival or taking the appliance away to be disposed of responsibly at our recycling plant. Our drivers or engineers make sure that everything is up and running before they leave, and we believe that it’s our fantastic customer service that really sets up apart. I’m really proud to say that our premier installation fleet recently hit the milestone of installing over 6000 appliances in one week.”

Having mentioned customer service, Transportation & International Logistics took the opportunity to ask David about how AO Logistics maintain such high standards, and the answer was reassuringly down-to-earth. “We have the hard work of our people and sub-contractors to thank for our service levels. We approach customer service in a way that is recognisably ‘AO’ - most notably, we encourage everyone associated with AO to ‘treat every customer like your gran and do something your mum would be proud of.’ From a practical point of view, we offer popular functionality such as Track Your Order, and we’ve spent 30 years improving our operation so appliances can be delivered seamlessly into customers’ homes.”

By making sure that both its staff and its customers are treated with the same high regard, AO Logistics has built a solid foundation for success, but it does require dedication to training and improvement to sustain this type of company culture. “We believe everyone has a part to play in bringing this to life and the people we recruit are trusted to do everything they can to put the customer first,” David highlighted. “Internal development is an essential part of the culture and we pride ourselves on moving our people up the ladder, especially at AO Logistics where all of our technical management team were once AO engineers installing and delivering cooking appliances for customers. To aid internal development, AO has an innovative in-house training programme called the STAR programme, which is now in its seventh year, and helps with the development of management skills and business acumen.”

Prioritising customers and staff also requires continuous investment into the latest technology that will increase efficiency or simplify processes. “Voice-picking technology has recently been introduced across our warehouses and staff now wear headsets, improving speed and accuracy during the picking stage,” David revealed. “For our third-party logistics business, we’re now using the IRIS Client Portal, which enables our third-party clients to manage their own orders and deliveries in one place. We’ve also partnered with location service what3words so that our customers in the most rural locations can still benefit from our delivery proposition and I hope this new partnership means we can guarantee our customers the excellent AO experience, regardless of where they live.”

The philosophy that AO Logistics has adopted is clearly working as the company continues to go from strength to strength. In recent months [at time of writing] it has opened over half a million sq ft of warehousing space due to increased demand from customers. “Expanding our logistics network is a crucial step in our growth strategy, so we can continue to serve customers when they need us the most,” said David.AO 2

While Covid-19 has been such a challenge for so many businesses, what it brought to AO Logistics was an increase in people’s online shopping expenditure and many more customers turning to the business to supply their goods. “We’ve had to act quickly to adapt - the extra space means we can manage this growing demand while also ensuring that our colleagues can safely socially distance,” said David, before going on to talk more about how AO Logistics has been adjusting to the pandemic. “Being in control of our own logistics as a vertically integrated business has meant we haven’t had to compromise our operation throughout Covid-19 – only pausing some services for a limited time to ensure both our people and our customers were as safe as possible.

“The acceleration towards shopping online and our role in helping customers adjust to life in lockdown has been significant throughout the pandemic. We saw customers turning to us for products that became even more essential now that our homes have become our offices and schools. We’ve worked hard behind the scenes to make sure that we didn’t disappoint any customers and we’re proud that our team have managed to maintain a consistent high level of service. Our biggest challenge has been making sure we could follow the Government guidance without disappointing customers and we had to make some massive changes to the services we offered early on. Some of our installation services were turned off, default delivery became a ‘doorstop delivery’ and these necessary measures reduced the length of time that contractors spent in customers’ homes by over 95 per cent. Although no company could be fully prepared for the crisis and the demand that followed, our own logistics fleet enables us to have full control over the customer experience from beginning to end. I’m really proud of how the AO Logistics team has adapted to necessary changes and taken the swift expansion in their stride.”

Having opened three new warehouses in the middle of 2020, AO Logistics also managed to add prospects to its local communities in the form of employment, and the ability to share its exceptional services with new customers. “The expansion has created many new jobs - 367 in Crewe – and we’re proud to be able to offer exciting opportunities for people in the North West,” agreed David. “As well as helping the team manage sales, the new warehouses also mean that we can continue to grow our third-party logistics business which has seen new clients such as Aldi, Simba and Keter. We’ve been able to share our AO service capability with these other retailers and, thanks to the AO team and our sub-contractors, their customers have been able to rely on them.”

These new delivery contracts have seen AO Logistics’ 3PL business grow ‘exponentially’ in David’s words, and he was pleased to note that “there is no better stamp of approval for our logistics capability than other retailers, such as Aldi and Simba Sleep, wanting to partner with us to help them deliver fantastic service to their customers. Over the past few months, we’ve really been trying to get ahead of the game, and we plan to continue expanding our delivery network to be as close as possible to customers.”

An important part of AO Logistics’ service is the removal and disposal of its customers’ old appliances, and this isn’t just for people buying AO products. “To help people dispose of their appliances, we also have a Collect and Recycle service, where anybody can book a AO 3collection date to have their appliance taken away to be responsibly recycled,” said David. He then went into further detail about the topic of social responsibility and the environmental side of AO Logistics’ operations: “Sustainability is a real focus for the business in the coming years as we want to build on our solid foundations and continue to invest in operating as responsibly as possible,” he stated. “One of our exciting business goals is to work with manufacturers to make the first full-cycle recycled appliance. AO’s main recycling plant in Telford processes over 700,000 fridges per year, so the natural next step is finding a way to get the most out of these old appliances.

“AO is keen to invest in sustainable solutions that can lead to long-term savings and efficiencies. Customers are demanding socially conscious companies, and I feel like we have a duty to do all we can to ensure business practices are done as sustainably as possible. AO has already invested in operating sustainably and our goal is to constantly push the boundaries via innovation - our recycling plant is the first step. Based in Telford, AO Recycling is the only recycling plant in the UK capturing 100 per cent of harmful gasses from fridges, with the second plant transforming WEEE plastics into reusable materials.

“We’re also making commitments to improve our impact on the environment, including the removal of single-use plastics from our facilities. We’ve recently swapped the plastic bubble wrap we use to protect appliances to one made from 30 per cent recycled plastic and we’ve also developed a reusable packaging solution, known as AO Armour, which can eliminate the need for bubble wrap altogether. It has recently been implemented in the Returns process, which has reduced approximately 10,000 rolls of bubble wrap per year and we hope to use this in all stages of the supply chain.”

Furthermore, the warehouse technology we discussed earlier has reduced the amount of paper being printed in the warehouse - another step towards operating as sustainably as possible.

Judging by the rave reviews online and its exceptional ratings on platforms such as Trustpilot, AO Logistics has found the right strategy and approach to meet the needs of customers. It has achieved this at the same time as developing and appreciating its staff and increasing its own operations and going forward the future looks like it will continue on this successful trajectory. “We have tonnes of things planned for the next five years, just watch this space!” exclaimed David, before concluding with an exciting new development: “We recently announced our new VCP (Value Creation Plan) which is the ‘AO way’ of doing an incentive scheme. The majority of the value created will be shared by every employee, rewarding them for their exceptional performance - if the share price rises above £5.23 over the next five years, our people could earn enough to make a meaningful difference to their lives and their families.”

AO Logistics
Services: The logistics arm for AO – the online electricals store


Badge of honor

After successfully negotiating the Covid-19 outbreak and launching a brand-new sustainability strategy, Biffa Waste Services finished 2020 on a high as it was awarded Earned Recognition status by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

As the UK’s leading sustainable waste management company, Biffa has built its reputation on remaining at the forefront of development and innovation in the industry. In December 2020, the firm celebrated its latest standout achievement when it was awarded earned recognition status by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

On receiving the accreditation, Biffa joined BT, John Lewis, Stagecoach and over 90 other UK businesses that have passed the stringent pre-validation checks and procedural audits that make up the earned recognition program’s exacting assessment process. Due to the Biffa ahigh standard of Biffa’s results, the organization saw all eight of its operator licenses enter the scheme, which continues to reward the most compliant, high-performing operators, drivers and vehicles on Britain’s roads.

Phil Breen is the DVSA’s Earned Recognition National Account Manager and, as such, is uniquely positioned to discuss the merits of the scheme for both the governing body and its operators. Speaking to Transportation & Logistics International, Phil is able to provide some context on the extent of Biffa’s achievement.

“For years the DVSA was asked, ‘What does good like? What is a good operator?’,” he begins. “We have always had the standard for the operator license conditions, but that is just the starting point. It is the minimum expectation for an operator.

“Some operators in the industry want to do better. They want to be more than basic. They want to be the best at what they do. That is where earned recognition comes in. It means you have earned the right to be recognized by the DVSA and the Department for Transport as an exemplary operator within the industry.

“The flipside of the program is that it frees up DVSA resources,” Phil adds, “meaning we can focus our targets at the roadside to the serially and seriously non-compliant - the rogues within our industry that we either want to see become more compliant or removed. We are trying to raise the standards in every part of the industry, from operators to auditors to IT suppliers, and we are the only government scheme of our kind. It is free to join too. We are not here to make profit but to improve and ensure safety and compliance.”

For Biffa, the earned recognition process started in June 2019 when Phil introduced the company to the scheme. Mark Forster, Head of Fleet Compliance at Biffa, has been present on every step of the company’s journey – from pre-validation checks to safety and compliance audits to the announcement of the program’s successful completion in late 2020. According to Mark, the support the company has received from the DVSA has been invaluable.

“As soon as you apply for earned recognition it becomes apparent that you are working in partnership with the DVSA on the process,” he explains. “You are walked through the scheme step-by-step and I never had any concerns about contacting Phil or his colleagues.

“We now have a really open relationship with the DVSA and their earned recognition team. Once you look at the requirements for the standard you realize that it is just common sense. There are some really good suggestions that are easy to enact, but they are always happy to have an honest discussion and guide you if anything does go wrong. It feels as if we are all learning from each other.”

The flexibility of the scheme has also impressed Mark. The DVSA allows organizations to develop their own procedures, providing they meet the governing body’s criteria. Where company’s fall short, the earned recognition team looks to work collaboratively with firms to help correct and enhance their processes.

“Ultimately, I think people need to understand that it is a great accreditation, but it is not an easy one to get,” Mark asserts. “Everybody had to play their part. It brings everybody into the fold - not just technicians and drivers, but transport managers, the compliance team, fleet admin and everybody at Biffa involved in managing this fleet of vehicles. I guess that is why it has become such a badge of honor for us.”Biffa b

Alongside the obvious pride that stems from such a momentous achievement, earned recognition comes with a wide variety of additional benefits. Though the scheme has been running for only two years, some of the earliest earned recognition accredited operators are already reporting efficiency savings of more than £10,000. One operator in particular, Phil reveals, has made a saving of £33,000 since commencing the program.

“Earned recognition employs very modern approaches,” Phil continues. “As part of the scheme, alongside self-monitoring, state of the art IT systems are used to look at both vehicle and driver standards. The digital reports we draw from these systems are useful to both the operator and the earned recognition team, ensuring the operator is meeting certain KPI standards, which leads to efficiency savings felt through fewer stops, fewer costs, and more safe vehicles on the road.”

All earned recognition operators are listed on the gov.uk website and the DVSA regularly promotes these businesses on social media, as well as providing exclusive content workshops delivered by creators of key legislation. Earned recognition also allows operators to bid for one of the DVSA’s commercial modules, such as HS2. Mark suggests that the scheme has further boosted Biffa’s profile when it comes to bidding for work.

“It’s really helping us stand out amongst our colleagues,” he states. “This is the ultimate standard in our industry. Since we have become accredited, we will be using it to our advantage when tenders come our way by saying, ‘Look, the DVSA has designated us as an exemplary operator.’

By no means a stagnant or static scheme, earned recognition will continue to grow in the coming months and years as the DVSA looks to introduce more commercial modules and tailor the program towards contemporary topics, such as counter-terrorism and low emissions. According to Phil, earned recognition is merely at its ‘starting point’ and operators can expect to see it expand across other parts of the sector to ensure the whole transport industry is working together to make every journey safer. Adam Cooper, Group Fleet Director at Biffa, believes this is good news for all involved.

“The key thing for any large business is that if you have earned recognition, you are going to win more work,” he declares. “It is a gold star from the governing body that says, ‘You can trust these people, they are safe and they are reliable.’ It is a great opportunity for the industry as a whole to learn together and build together.

“We are particularly excited about the future of earned recognition because there is so much opportunity. When it comes to topics like expansion into the alternative fuel space and the sharing of knowledge, earned recognition is ripe for that in terms of the challenge the country faces and how we can do it collectively, rather than in pockets. As a company, we are well aware of the clean air zones and what we need to do, but actually I think the whole sector needs to be sharing best practices. The DVSA and earned recognition could lead the way on that.”

As Adam implies, Biffa is a passionate advocate for sustainability. Though earned recognition may have been the firm’s key achievement of the latter half of 2020, the first half of the year was headlined by the release of ‘Responsible, Resourceful’ – Biffa’s innovative new Biffa csustainability strategy.

Based around three pillars – building a circular economy, tackling climate change, and supporting its people and communities – Responsible, Resourceful sets ambitious targets that Biffa hopes to achieve by 2030. Among them is an overarching objective for the business to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 per cent across the next decade.

“We have already reduced our emissions by 65 per cent since 2002, so we are now working on the next step of a long journey,” claims the company’s External Affairs & Sustainability Manager, Simon Rutledge. “One of the key parts of this goal is the decarbonization of our fleet. We aim to stop buying fossil fuel roadside collection vehicles by 2030 and want to phase them all out by 2040. We are committed to doing the same thing for fossil fuel powered small vans by 2028.”

Working in partnership with Manchester City Council to electrify its fleet, Biffa recently trialed electric roadside collection vehicles in the area. The trial was a success and consequently, Biffa will be rolling out 27 of these pioneering electric vehicles in 2021.

“The significant thing for me in this space is that we now have viable, proven technologies that can be used to help decarbonize large vehicle fleets,” Adam proclaims. “In terms of roadside collection vehicles, major manufacturers like Electra, Dennis Eagle, Scania and Volvo now have alternatively powered products available for purchase at scale. We are talking mainly about electric vehicles, but hydrogen and compressed natural gas are increasingly becoming an option as well, so we are looking to harness these new capabilities and expand beyond Manchester, across our business, on a use case basis.

“At Biffa, we are signed up to the Westminster Commission for Road Air Quality, but the waste sector as a whole is highly collaborative on this front. Just recently, Daimler announced the phasing out of its diesel internal combustion engines, while JCB and Caterpillar continue to produce non-diesel variants of their equipment. It’s really exciting. Major manufacturers in our sector are being forced to accelerate their thinking.”

Looking back, Biffa’s accomplishments in 2020 are all the more impressive considering the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying impact felt by businesses worldwide. Resilient and well-organized, the firm continued to provide its key services throughout the crisis, seamlessly meeting the challenges presented by an increase in municipal and medical waste.

While Biffa’s agility has helped it respond to the difficulties of the last 12 months, the company is also proud to have retained its core focus on the health, safety and wellbeing of its workforce and the communities in which it operates. Thanks to a careful balancing of priorities and the hard work of its collection teams – who continue to win praise from councilors and local authorities – Biffa enters 2021 as an exemplary operator with a clear path towards future success.

Biffa Waste Services Limited
Services: Collection, landfill, recycling and special waste services

Supporting African trade

Breadbox offers a variety of liner, parcel and chartering services, and provides creative and alternative shipping options to its clients

A couple of years of operating a reefer service to West Africa was more than enough for Breadbox Shipping Lines (Breadbox) to come to the conclusion that the African continent contained so many shipping opportunities that it was worthwhile for the company to grow into a pure Africa breadbox aspecialist. Following its establishment in 2001, Netherlands-based Breadbox gradually built a network of agents and representatives, developed from reefer into MPP service, and launched an additional coastal service.

“We neither felt the need nor had the time to look at other regions,” Founder and Managing Director, Joris Bakker, begins. “We simply focused on what we were doing at the time in West Africa and a bit later, we decided to try and maximise on our established network and operations. Our idea was to develop more activities and diversify in Africa, instead of branching out to other geographical areas.”

It is a testament to the courage of Breadbox that the company has demonstrated such a long-standing dedication to servicing the West Africa trade lanes. As Joris himself admits, shipping to the region is not in the least straightforward and poses many challenges. “Slow operations in ports, unpredictable congestions, and the heightened piracy risk in Nigeria are some of the main obstacles at the moment. For example, our ships trading to Nigeria are escorted by patrol boats to and from the country’s ports. This is a very costly security measure that we are taking, but it is absolutely essential, because our top priority is always the safety of the crew, the ship, and the cargo.”

Besides piracy, Joris identifies the new fuel regulations as an active factor in play that has already had an impact on the way Breadbox operates. “As low-sulphur fuels are not readily available in the African ports, we had to change our entire coastal fleet over from IFO 180 to MGO, which, of course, had a major effect on our bottom line,” he discusses.

There are usually between ten and 15 ships operated by Breadbox at any point in time, with the exact number depending on the season and on economic circumstances. “The reefer service, for instance, is seasonal, hence the boosting of the fleet during the onion export season,” Joris details. “Of all the vessels that we operate, around five or six are permanently trading on the West African coast as part of our Inter Africa service. It is currently our most popular service, not least because we can sometimes offer clients multiple shipping options to choose from.”

Owing to the new IMO regulations that aim to reduce sulphur oxides and the requirement for all vessels to have a ballast water treatment system (BWTS) installed, Breadbox has now started looking at further fleet renewal options, with a view to replace its older, smaller multipurpose (MPP) vessels on the Inter Africa service with more eco-friendly ones. “Shipping is definitely becoming greener and so is Breadbox,” Joris maintains. “We are investigating a changeover from present fossil fuels to biofuels through the so-called ‘mass balance’ concept.”breadbox b

He explains: “As biofuels are not available in West Africa, you can instead supply biofuel to another vessel that is trading within an area where such fuels are available. The difference in price is then invoiced to Breadbox and we can claim the emission reduction and offer low-carbon shipping options to our clients. At the end of the day, it does not matter whether the biofuel is supplied to ship A in Europe or ship B in Africa and as such, it is an interesting concept and development we are closely looking into.”

Alongside the Inter Africa service, Breadbox specialises in MPP services connecting Europe and West Africa, South Africa and West Africa, and, since the second half of 2019, Turkey and West Africa. “The new service started with handysize tonnage, with the base trade being steels from the Turkish steel mills, although we also ship cement and pipes on these sailings. It is certainly an exciting venture for us, which, we hope, will grow into a mature and stable service in 2020,” Joris comments.

“We also expect to grow the Europe – West Africa service in the new year. In 2019, we performed a total of 34 sailings and we believe we can take this figure to 35-40 in 2020,” he adds, before concluding. “Together with developing these routes, we will focus on the investments previously discussed. We will be gradually renewing our fleet to support our various services and continue moving towards the realisation of our long-term objectives.”

Breadbox Shipping Lines
Services: A dynamic shipping company

Connecting the cities of the future

As can be seen in its involvement in a myriad of rail projects across the Middle East region, Bombardier Transportation understands that good transport connections are vital for quality of life and economic growth

Across the Middle East, a number of countries can today be found to be accelerating their respective transition towards more sustainable transportation models, with investment at an all-time high and rail projects being prioritised at local, regional and national levels. As a mobility bombardier atechnology leader, Bombardier Transportation (Bombardier) is proud to be playing a significant role in this change.

Bombardier’s business activities in this part of the world began in Egypt in the late 1970s. This continued until the end of the 1990s, with the supply of almost 300 diesel locomotives to the Egyptian National Railways. In more recent years, the company has delivered a sizable share of the Middle East’s mobility market.

“Responding to a clear vision to become a strategic local partner in this region’s rail industry, Bombardier has established three wholly-owned subsidiaries in the Middle East since 2012, first, in Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and most recently in Cairo in Egypt,” explains Pierre Cicion, Region Leader Middle East at Bombardier Transportation “Bombardier currently employs around 140 people across the region, and this will grow significantly in 2020 as a new project team is established to deliver two new monorail lines for Cairo and new maintenance projects ramp up.”

As Pierre goes on to state, there are a number of reasons behind the company’s success in the region. “First, the company took a good look at the market and reviewed its product portfolio, leading to investment in a programme of R&D and innovation to bring its transit system technologies to the highest state-of-the-art standard. Many of Bombardier’s projects in the Middle East are for the INNOVIA family and this product platform has benefited from substantial investments with the needs of the region in mind.

“A second reason is because the Middle East has a strong appetite for new railway links supplied as a complete turnkey system, so partnering with an experienced ‘one-stop-shop’ supplier such as Bombardier is the most effective approach to receive optimal rail services that address passenger capacity needs. Delivering the rail system is, however, just one stage of the process. As a global leader in system integration, design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM), and concession contracting, Bombardier considers and plans the whole life of its products and systems. This allows the system design to be optimised and adds value for the client during the project execution stage; for example, by reducing energy consumption or using less space for maintenance facilities and depot buildings – savings that translate into lower capital and operational costs for customers.”

Notable successes
With a number of impressive rail projects already in the Middle East, Bombardier has a proven record of improving public transport for citizens, as well as creating high-value and permanent employment opportunities within the region. One country where it has had notable success is Saudi Arabia. Bombardier won its first order for the country’s capital Riyadh in 2010 for an INNOVIA monorail system for the newly emerging King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD). More recently, however, it has been a focal point in the delivery of the Riyadh Metro.

“The Riyadh Metro is one of the most impressive rail infrastructure projects in delivery in the world today,” Pierre states. “Six fully automated metro lines with a combined length of 176 kilometres, serving 85 stations, are close to completion and the first trains are planned to run this year. As a member of the ArRiyadh New Mobility (ANM) consortium, Bombardier is delivering metro technology for the new Line 3 (orange) including 47 two-car driverless INNOVIA metro 300 trains, system interface management, project management and design. Bombardier has also been selected to deliver fleet maintenance services for the 47 INNOVIA metro trainsets during the new railway’s first years of commercial service.”

To create the world class metro for Riyadh, the INNOVIA Metro 300 vehicles are equipped with proven technologies. The MITRAC rotary motor propulsion delivers short travel times, high acceleration performance and train braking energy recovery, while the FLEXX Eco bogies are bombardier blightweight and robust for reduced energy consumption and low lifecycle costs. The carbodies are constructed from recyclable aluminium with a steel under-frame and composite end cap.

Attractive passenger friendly interiors are fitted with three classes of accommodation: First class cars for families and singles, family-only cars and singles-only cars. Three bi-parting doors on each side of each car and spacious entrance areas will permit fast and safe boarding, while the walk-through gangways and wide aisles will help passenger flow and enhance safety. Comfortable seating is plentiful in all classes and passengers with restricted mobility have their own designated spaces. The large front windshield and side windows create a bright and comfortable aesthetic and provide a scenic view for passengers. Meanwhile, passenger information systems and advanced security features, such as on-board cameras and two-way communication systems, are designed to further enhance the interior environment for passengers.

Significant projects
Also in Saudi Arabia, one will find the Haramain High Speed Railway – otherwise known as the Mecca-Medina High Speed Railway – which is a 450 kilometre, dual track line connecting the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah, and the King Abdulaziz International Airport. The powerheads of the 35 high-speed trains from Talgo SA are equipped with Bombardier’s MITRAC 3000 propulsion equipment and FLEXX speed bogies for commercial speeds up to 300 kilometres per hour. The contract also includes 12 years of maintenance for these components which is being carried out by Bombardier’s team of maintenance experts at the depots in Makkah and Madinah at either end of the route.

Improved travel experience
A couple of the other significant contracts to have been awarded to Bombardier in the region include examples that can be found in the United Arab Emirates and in Cairo, Egypt. In the case of the former, the company has successfully delivered to Dubai International Airport a flagship turnkey 1.3-kilometre elevated transit system, complete with two stations and 18 vehicles, to connect the existing Terminal 1 to the new Concourse 4. “The INNOVIA APM 300 automated people mover system opened in 2016, and it is equipped with the Bombardier’s CITYFLO 650 communications-based train control (CBTC) technology for driverless operation; a stand-out feature which improves the travel experience for passengers and enables the airport to easily accommodate the high passenger volumes that this essential airport rail link demands,” Pierre adds. “In addition to this, Bombardier has provided Operations and Maintenance (O&M) services for the Dubai Airport transit system since it opened. Here, a local O&M team is delivering world class performance, with the system’s availability averaging an impressive 99.75 per cent in its first three years of operation.”

In Egypt, in August 2019, Bombardier and construction companies Orascom Construction and Arab Contractors, were awarded the Engineering, bombardier cProcurement and Construction (EPC) contract for two monorail lines in the mega-city of Cairo by
the Egyptian Government. “Bombardier and its local partners offered the best technical solution and the most competitive bid,” Pierre proudly declares. “As part of this contract, a 42-kilometre monorail line will be constructed to connect the 6th of October City and Giza, and a 54 kilometre monorail line will connect the New Administrative City and East Cairo. On completion of the construction phase, the consortium will be responsible for the O&M of both lines for 30 years.

“Bombardier will design, supply and install the electrical and mechanical (E&M) equipment for the two lines, including 70 four-car INNOVIA monorail 300 trains (280 cars) and the CITYFLO 650 signalling and automatic train control technology for driverless operation. Orascom Construction and Arab Contractors have formed a Joint Venture (JV) to deliver the civil works and construction for the monorail system infrastructure, including the 33 stations, 96 kilometres of guideway and the maintenance depot for the two lines.”

Growth trajectory
Turning to the company’s priorities for the region in 2020, these include ensuring a smooth start for the Cairo monorail project team, as well as continuing with project deliveries and operation and maintenance support. “Developing new business in the Middle East also remains important,” Pierre adds. “Rolling stock suppliers across the industry are, for instance, eyeing the upcoming opportunities, including locomotives for Egypt, the light metro project coming soon in Bahrain and upcoming rolling stock projects in Turkey. Bombardier is, of course, very keen to participate in these types of projects.”

Over the next five years, Bombardier wants to continue its steady growth trajectory in this dynamic region. “Global attention on climate change is making cities rethink mobility and public transport plays 49a crucial role in fighting local air pollution and climate change. National governments everywhere are reviewing their action plans and many, like those in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Cairo, are encouraging a modal shift to public transport and sustainable urban mobility modes, such as metro, monorail and light rail systems,” Pierre reveals. “The new urgency to combat climate change is expected to increase the wave of investment in public transport in the effort to drastically reduce CO2 emissions globally and cut local air pollution to keep cities breathable.

“With a healthy installed base of rail systems now in the region, Bombardier is committed to supporting its customers to optimise the overall ‘total cost of ownership’ of their assets. Long-term service agreements with customers always ensures they get the best performance from their fleets, and with more than 60 turnkey transit systems delivered in 16 countries around the world, Bombardier-built rail technology is proven and ready to manage passenger flows in cities and airports, safely and sustainably.”

Bombardier Transportation
Services: A global leader in the transportation industry

Rising to the challenge

With operational hubs around the world supporting its tailor-made, door-to-door service, Challenge Group is on a mission to be recognized as the best boutique air cargo handling operation on the planet

Readers of this publication and its forerunner Land, Sea and Air, will probably have heard of the name CAL Cargo Airlines. An all-cargo airline, whose team of pilots have a wealth of experience flying to every corner of the globe, CAL Cargo Airlines is a member of the Challenge aChallenge Group. Other entities within the Group include, Challenge Airlines BE, Challenge Air-Cargo, Challenge Logistics, its leasing arm Challenge Aviation, and Challenge Handling. The latter – formally LACHS (Liege Air Cargo Handling Services) – was formed in 1996, whereas all of the other members have been built in the last four years.

Today, the Challenge Group consists of four B747-400Fs, two of which are the high performance B747-400ERFs, operated by two airlines – CAL Cargo Airlines and Challenge Airlines BE. The Group’s major hub is in Liege, Belgium, from which the Group operates flights to several major airports across North America and China. Meanwhile, Tel-Aviv serves as a secondary hub, connecting China and Europe.

“Challenge Group holds a unique position in the market as it is focused on dealing with the most complicated of cargo,” states its Chairman and Owner, Offer Gilboa. “For example, as part of a complex cool chain, our Challenge Handling entity possesses CEIV certification, as well as its own large refrigeration facility, while other unique qualities that we can call upon include our ability to analyze market needs and adapt in time to provide a tailor-made service to the unique requirements of our customers. That particular capability was put to the test during 2020, with demand and the operational environment around us changing on a daily basis.”

In building its network of businesses, Challenge Group has created a dynamic mix of synergies among its members, allowing it to offer its customers comprehensive, door-to-door solutions for complicated air cargo. “The years from 2018 to 2020 were those in which the vision of Challenge Group truly materialized,” Offer continues. “While we enjoyed the excellent market that 2018 gave us – which allowed us the opportunity to acquire two new aircraft – we kept investing in Group growth during 2019, which was the most difficult year in the last decade for the air cargo business. Across this 12-month period, a lot was invested in order to prepare Challenge Group, and its infrastructure and tools, for growth, with one of the biggest investments being in the refurbishment of a 747-400-ERF, acquired a year earlier. At the same time, Challenge Handling expanded its operations at Liege Airport into a second line warehouse. It now plans to open a second one on the north side of the airport, which will almost triple the b siness in terms of size, making it one of Europe’s largest handling facilities!”

Challenge Group started 2020 prepared for growth, although the extent of the growth was – at the time – not yet perceived. As one can now imagine, the emergence of Covid-19 presented many operational challenges, together with very high demand for the Group’s services, especially in the verticals market, such as pharma products. “We were perfectly positioned, with a presence in China, to support at first the relief flights to China, and later the major airlift of medical supplies from China to the rest of the world,” Offer explains.Challenge b

“Furthermore, the Group’s wise implementation of our home base at Liege Airport (which is located in the heart of Europe, open 24/7, and is dedicated to cargo in the main), with Challenge Handling further expanding its facilities there, has seen us become a key anchor for maintaining the logistic supply of Covid-19 materials into Europe, and serving as platform for European citizens during this difficult period,” Offer adds. “Additionally, we are now seeing an increased demand for our expertise in the handling and moving the vaccines, to and from end users across all regions of the globe.”

As the Challenge Group prides itself on being recognized as the best boutique air cargo group – specializing in special cargo and offering bespoke services to its customers – having the right team, made up from the right people, is essential. “During the pandemic, our employees proved they can do the impossible, under extreme conditions,” Offer enthuses. “The Group has always maintained close links between its management and workforce, and taking care of its people has long been a key part of its culture. In the last year, the Group has continuously strived to maintain a safe environment for its people to work. Also, with the help of today’s digital tools, it is able to keep its business moving forward, even without being able to meet other people or groups physically.”

Keeping with this trend, the Challenge Group is now in the midst of moving to more digital platforms, offering its customers real-time access to booking and quoting services, as well as advanced tracking services. “Over the past several years, the Group has also established strong partnerships with businesses such as Cainiao, and others,” Offer says. “Liege Airport’s geographical location, its growth and expansion potential, its great infrastructure, and its access to key destinations in Europe, has brought Challenge Airlines and Handling to the attention of many shippers and forwarders around the globe, and whether it be through e-commerce, mail or parcels services, they all have large volume redistribution requirements.”

The Group also continues to make headway in increasing its levels of connectivity around the world. As recently as October 2020, it launched a new service connecting Liege Airport and Tel-Aviv with Hong Kong. This strategic move will help to further strengthen the Group’s Tel-Aviv hub in particular, not only eastbound but also westbound, and is just another example of its ability to follow market demand and meet the rapidly changing needs of both consumers and the commodities that they require.

Looking to the future, the Challenge Group has designs on achieving further growth. The only bottleneck to this at present is aircraft, and the Group is currently evaluating several aircraft types for prospective use. “The Challenge Group’s expansion, in both network and Challenge cground facilities, is fueled by our customers pushing us to grow and take advantage of our vision and potential, which in turn will facilitate their own future needs and growth,” Offer details.

Indeed, CAL Cargo was once described as the best kept secret in the market, and as other members of the Challenge Group have been created and grown so to have the opportunities for its customers to make use 35of the benefits of their shared synergies. “The word about the Challenge Group is now out there, and we look forward to all members and customers of it enjoying the benefits of working with the best boutique air cargo group in the world,” Offer concludes

Challenge Group
Services: Non-standard cargo solutions

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