Air-Rail extends its reach

posted on 15th May 2019
Air-Rail extends its reach

José Manuel García Arrechea, responsible for airport & GSE business development at Air-Rail, the Madrid-based company that offers a portfolio of GSE for sale and lease, as well as associated maintenance and servicing, tells Airside about the growth the company has enjoyed in recent years

Approximately 68% of Air-Rail’s revenue now comes from its aviation-related business, about 20% from the rail industry and the balance from the logistics sector. And García is keen to build on what is already an expanding portfolio of products and services available to airports and ground service providers.

The work that García and his colleagues have put in with Yutong, Aviapartner and Seville Airport/Aena is clearly paying off, as witnessed by the unveiling of the all-electric apron bus in Seville in April this year (see previous article). García points to the capability of Yutong and what it can offer by way of innovative product to a handler like Aviapartner and an airport like Seville.

Yutong manufactured over 70,000 buses last year, and as such is the world’s biggest bus manufacturer. Most of the vehicles are city buses, of course, and most of them are diesel-powered; nevertheless, its manufacturing capacity is huge, and it has a proven track record. And, in fact, it does have a large number of electric city buses in operation already in Europe (mostly in the UK and France), while it also has more than 250 electric airport apron buses already operating around the world.

Most of the latter are based in China, but García also points to a dozen Yutong diesel apron buses operated by Swissport in South Africa, to another in Tanzania and yet another in Oman, for example (a Yutong electric apron demonstration vehicle can also be found in Hong Kong right now).

Air-Rail has worked closely with Yutong to upgrade the quality of the product to European standards, while complying with all International Air Transport Association (IATA) and European Economic Area CE certifications, García emphasises.

He also says that Yutong already has a large warehouse in France to store spare parts and that Air-rail, as its sole apron bus distributor in continental Europe, has itself accumulated several spare parts in its warehouses around Spain to deliver “immediate answers to any problems that might arise”.

Air-Rail has also been working with Aviapartner for a number of years and is keen to extend that collaboration to the handler’s stations in other European nations. But as well as supporting ground service providers, Air-Rail partners with GSE suppliers; for example, it is a provider of TLD GSE in the Spain and Portugal markets.

García confirms that Air-Rail is keen to expand its GSE rental business across Europe and even into markets beyond. Plus, he hopes to further expand its GSE maintenance and servicing work. Air-Rail currently has three maintenance shops located in Madrid and Malaga in Spain and Lisbon in Portugal; opening such a facility in Seville and other European cities in 2019 is under consideration, while elsewhere Air-Rail currently offers maintenance work through airside workshops operated by local businesses.

Any further expansion will build on a process of growth that has characterised Air-Rail’s recent history. In one particularly important development, Air-Rail recently recovered from Lesma Handling more than 300 items of GSE, in the wake of the decision made by Ryanair – for whom Lesma used to provide ground services in Spain – to self-handle in that country.

These units – pushbacks, baggage tractors, dollies, belt loaders, ground power units (GPUs) – significantly expanded the inventory available to Air-Rail for leasing or sale, while the Irish low-cost carrier’s decision to go it alone also led to it leasing GSE from Air-Rail.

Over just the first quarter of this year, Air-Rail has invested more than 14 million Euros (US$15.7 million) in GSE, García says – no small amount.

Ambulifts

As well as the focus on expanding Air-Rail’s leasing and renting footprint and alongside the emphasis on distribution of Yutong’s electric (and diesel) airport buses, a third priority for García at the moment relates to passengers with restricted mobility (PRMs) and the ambulifts that allow them to board and disembark from aircraft.

Indeed, Air-Rail has significantly ramped up its capacity in this market – it delivered 85 ambulifts to Spanish airports just last year. Its focus on ambulifts is fairly recent in nature; with an Aena tender for ambulifts to equip a number of Spanish airports coming up in late 2017, Air-Rail wanted to source an ambulift supplier.

It found a suitable manufacturer, Ciudad Real-based Tecnove, with which to partner and develop the project. Tecnove manufactured catering trucks, among other things, and could quickly develop a new ambulift unit based on the same vehicle chassis. The collaboration was born, and the Aena tender was subsequently won.

The 85 units that Air-Rail thereafter supplied to Aena included a range of sizes, the largest being two vehicles that can serve aircraft as large as the A380 super jumbo and which are now in situ at Madrid-Barajas Airport. Others are in operation at locations including Malaga, Alicante, Valencia, the Canary Islands and Seville.

The operators of these ambulifts include Acciona Airport Services, Ferrovial and Interserve, although the end customer is in fact Aena, which is ultimately responsible for PRM handling at its airports. The contract covers an initial period of four years, with a possible two-year extension. A large number of the ambulifts are being rented out by Air-Rail.

This deal is just the start of a promising line of business, García believes. A new Spanish tender may not be too long coming, and – as with Air-Rail’s other product and service offerings, including all forms of short-term and long-term leasing of numerous forms of GSE such as passenger stairs, pushbacks, baggage tractors and water service units – García is keen to investigate any opportunities for spreading business beyond Spain, across Europe and into new markets like Scandinavia and North Africa.

Air-Rail has a lot to offer, he believes, as evidenced by a strong history of performance and growth since the company’s establishment in 1992. It has two and a half decades of experience in the aviation market, with both technical engineering knowledge and on-the-ground workshop support for its equipment in the field.

It provides strong after-sales support, García informs, alongside engineers and service technicians who can fly out to customers should any problems with equipment arise.

It has enjoyed long years of partnership with established customers such as Aviapartner (its biggest customer) and Spanish flag-carrier Iberia (which has its own handling division, Iberia Airport Services) and has been the exclusive TLD distributor in Spain for 25 years. This illustrates Air-Rail’s strong relationships with its suppliers as well as its clients, García suggests.