In February this year, Turkish handler Havas – part of Turkey’s wider aviation service provider and airport operator, TAV Airports (which is itself part of Paris-based airport operator Groupe ADP) – confirmed that it had acquired Croatian handler MZLZ Ground Handling Services
MZLZ is the sole ground handler at Zagreb Airport, and the Croatian capital became the 31st station at which Havas provides services (of the rest, 29 are Turkish airports, while the other is Riga in Latvia).
With the acquisition, Havas began providing passenger, ramp, representation and supervision services, flight operation, load control and communication services as well as cargo and mail handling services at Zagreb.
A consortium including TAV Airports and Groupe ADP now holds the right to operate at Zagreb Airport until 2042.
Havas general manager Mete Erna commented at the time: “We focus on constantly improving our operations through innovative solutions and providing the best service to our airline collaborations.
“Approximately 30 airlines regularly fly to Zagreb Airport, which is a significant tourist destination in the Adriatic. We will carry out all processes as the sole ground handling service provider at the airport, which also has cargo and general aviation traffic.
“We will increase the efficiency of our operations, sustain our investments in ground handling services and continue to be the preferred business partner of airlines.”
The Havas operation at Zagreb was expected to require approximately 500 employees and a GSE inventory of some 176 motorised and 346 wheeled items of equipment.
In 2019, Zagreb Airport served 3,435,000 passengers and 45,000 flights, as well as handling approximately 13,000 tons of cargo. Due to travel restrictions introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, passenger traffic at the airport in 2021 was around 41% of the traffic experienced in 2019.
Building on strength
Havas’ Erna tells Airside about the decision to acquire MZLZ, saying: “TAV Airports as a member of Groupe ADP was already part of the consortium running Zagreb Airport. The consortium wanted to focus on its core business of airport operation and divest other activities that came under the airport umbrella.
“As the subsidiary of TAV Airports and the only ground handling company owned by any of the consortium members, we were always a good candidate. We have also supported the development of the ground handling organisation in Zagreb through the TAV presence in the consortium. This allowed us to identify the strengths of MZLZ Ground Handling and to have a good understanding of the Croatia ground handling market, which offers good prospects.”
Was the fact that Havas will be the only ground handler at Zagreb Airport important? Apparently not. Erna observes: “Although we will be the only service provider in Zagreb for a limited period, this is not enough reason to justify such an investment. Competition will come to Zagreb in a few years time.
“We believe Zagreb has a strong enough traffic potential to sustain two ground handlers in the future. We aimed for a long-term investment in Croatia and we would not do it unless we believed in the future feasibility of MZLZ Ground Handling. We hope to grow together with the Croatian aviation sector and contribute to its development with our own know-how.”
Havas’ involvement with MZLZ is also not new. “We have been supporting MZLZ Ground Handling with our experienced management since 2014,” says Erna. “Our colleagues have taken crucial roles in the restructuring of the company after its privatisation.
“While we plan to sustain the presence of our colleagues in Zagreb, we are also looking to integrate the company further into Havas, especially commercially. MZLZ Ground Handling also has a very strong and experienced team of local management and employees. We want to contribute to their development and learn from their local experience too.”
While this goes on, Havas is also looking to continue to improve efficiencies of handling at the Zagreb station. “Throughout the years we have invested in personnel development and IT infrastructure at over 30 airports, in areas including resource planning, paperless operations, online trainings and various certifications in quality, safety and environment management,” Erna points out.
“While we aim to bring those benefits to Zagreb we look forward also to gaining a stronger commercial base thanks to the similarities of the customer portfolios in Croatia and Turkey.”
The development of Havas’ footprint at Zagreb is indicative of the handler’s ambition, which seemingly has not been dimmed by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have been looking at network expansion opportunities over more than 10 years,” Erna confirms. “While some of our enterprises have been successful – such as in Latvia – some others turned out to be difficult projects. The pandemic forced us to suspend our operation in Medinah, Saudi Arabia. However we also see new opportunities arising within and outside of the TAV and ADP airport network. While the uncertainties crated by the pandemic have created a difficult environment for investing, it also offers some good opportunities which might not have come to the table if not for the pandemic.”
On the question of Covid-19 and its ongoing impact on the aviation industry, Erna opines: “We are confident that travel demand will come close to pre-Covid levels by the end of 2022, as vaccination levels are higher than ever and quarantine requirements have been eased in most countries.
“This positive news lets us prepare for the busiest period since the start of the Covid pandemic. The removal of travel restrictions and less confusing travel requirements would definitely encourage passengers to travel more and would help the entire industry move to a better recovery.
“On the other hand, disruptions in labour markets and high inflation in many economies, on top of the uncertainties about traffic recovery, make recruitment a bigger challenge. We try our best to take the correct position in the market and stretch our financial capability to make Havas a very good place to work, regardless of the financial difficulties we are going through.”