As we see more women of great stature grace the top ranks of what-was-once a male-dominated air cargo and logistics industry, Payload Asia listens to Vivien Lau, chief executive of Jardine Aviation Services Group, as she shares her thoughts for the C-suite section.
Can you share with us your work experience and what led you to pursue a career in aviation?
I have spent over 15 years in the aviation industry, with the last 10 years working at Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals (HACTL). In November 2021, I was appointed chief executive of Jardine Aviation Services Group (JASG).
I started my career as executive trainees in Jardine Matheson Group, and got the opportunity to rotate to different business sectors. In one of my earlier assignments working in the airport, I just loved to work with the people—who are all very professional and collaborative—in the aviation industry. Since then, I have never left the aviation industry. I had spent 6 years working in a joint-venture project to set up a passenger ground handling company in China, and then worked in air cargo and logistics business for 9 years; now I am responsible for a full range of ground handling services including passenger, ramp, cargo and ground support equipment (GSE) services.
What’s a typical day like as chief executive?
Being the chief executive during crisis time, I spent most of the time talking and meeting with people. To me, the top priority is to keep close communications with staff. People are afraid to talk to the senior team; therefore I reach out to the frontline managers to understand what’s happening around. I also like meeting up with customers because they can share with me the latest market trends, and it is the most effective way to know how to steer the company in the right direction in a highly competitive environment.
I am pleased to be elected as the President of Hong Kong Airline Service Providers Association (HASPA), whose members are non-airline aviation operators representing some 24,000 staff at Hong Kong International Airport. Hence, for most of the time, I am engaged in regular dialogues with Hong Kong Airport Authority and the related government departments to exchange views and lobby for wider support to the aviation sector particularly during the pandemic.
Tell us about Jardine’s cargo operations. Where do you operate and how is the company performing?
JASG is based in Hong Kong International Airport, providing ground services to 60 international airlines including freighters and belly cargoes. Our passenger-related business is badly affected by the travel restrictions to Hong Kong. Nevertheless, similar to most other ground companies, it gives us an opportunity to expand our capabilities in cargo-related services.
During the pandemic, our cargo-related business has grown and expanded with more value-added services including but not limited to the freighter ramp, cabin-loading, operations control, air cargo documentation, charter flight handling, crew escort, and pet caring services.
We set up the Integrated Operations Centre (IOC) just before the outbreak of COVID19 which then played an important role in coordinating the dynamic changes of new cargo requirements such as pax freighters. IOC is a single point of contact to airlines, GSA and charterers. For new airlines or existing airlines with new requests, IOC helps in facilitating the local coordination and operational matters, as well as ensuring regulatory compliance.
What do you think will be the trends that will become part of our new norm across the air cargo and wider supply chain?
Before the pandemic, cargo typically made up around 12% of airlines’ total revenue, but cargo contributions increased significantly to 49% during the pandemic. The pandemic also fueled the growth of e-commerce sales which traditionally relied on aircraft belly capacity. Airlines will continue to look for ways to grow cargo in an agile way that allows for quick adjustments.
The industry’s use of data and analytics has been increasing and will accelerate spanning the entire supply chain. Airlines are using big data and AI to improve on-time performance and real-time decision making. Cargo visibility and traceability will become the critical success factors not only to e-commerce players but also air cargo operators.
As for implications to ground handlers like JASG, there will be higher demand for digitalization and innovation of ground handling operations. The use of technology to facilitate real-time visibility of flight data and operations performance will be the game changer under the new normal.
What can you say about Hong Kong’s status as an aviation hub?
While most countries are opening up for quarantine-free travelers, Hong Kong’s travel restrictions and quarantine requirements make us less competitive. The Hong Kong government has shared a roadmap to gradually relax some anti-pandemic measures in the coming three months, and it will pave the way for the border opening eventually. Even if there is no definite date yet, I have confidence in Hong Kong as it is a highly resilient place. Hong Kong International Airport just re-claimed the world’s number 1 position in 2021 given the unique competitive edge on air cargo.
Taking advantage of low traffic, the Airport Authority managed to speed up the construction of a three-runway system, which expects the completion by 2024. After the expansion, the airport will be able to handle the targeted annual passenger and cargo volume of around 120 million and 10 million tonnes respectively, enabling Hong Kong to enhance its status as an international aviation hub. The development of Airport City, comprising retail, dining and entertainment facilities; as well as office towers, a logistics centre and a mega performance venue, will be completed in phases from 2023 to 2027. Taking full advantage of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macao Bridge, the new development will link Hong Kong with the Greater Bay Area to all travelers to/from other parts of the world.
Any thoughts on the entry of Greater Bay Airlines to the Hong Kong market?
The approval of Air Operator Certificate (AOC) and ATLA license is a big step forward, but the pandemic situation has slowed down the growth plan and launch date of Greater Bay Airlines. Given Greater Bay Airlines is a new startup, they have the advantage of launching a new travel experience without burden from the legacy carriers under new normal.
JASG is pleased to be appointed the ground handler of Greater Bay Airlines in Hong Kong. We will provide full ranges of services from passenger, baggage, ramp and cargo operations. At the preparation stage, both Greater Bay Airlines and JASG are exploring further opportunities in view of the new travel behaviors in the new normal. Greater Bay Airlines had operated some cargo charters during the pandemic, and JASG supported the cargo handling as well.