Swissport International Ltd.

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Swissport International Ltd.

Zuerich-Flughafen, 8058
Telephone: (
+41) 812 4950
Fax: (
+41) 811 1001
Web site:

Private Company
Incorporated: 1996
Employees: 22,000
Sales: CHF 1.17 billion ($950 million) (2003)
NAIC: 488119 Other Airport Operations; 488190 Other Support Activities for Air Transportation; 488510 Freight Transportation Arrangement; 541614 Process, Physical Distribution, and Logistics Consulting Services; 551112 Offices of Other Holding Companies

Swissport International Ltd. is the world's largest ground handling company. It boasts operations at 170 stations in 34 countries, and handles three million tons of cargo a year. Swissport's activities encompass everything an airline needs on the ground to move passengers and cargo efficiently and safely. The company also performs such services as line maintenance, aircraft cleaning, and fueling. Swissport began as the ground handling operations of Swissair AG and became an independent company in 1996. It underwent a management buyout in 2002 as Swissair underwent bankruptcy. Swissair's successor, Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. (SWISS), is the company's largest client.


Swissport International Limited became an independent company in 1996. Formerly known as Swissair Ground Services, the operation had provided ground handling for Swissair AG since the mid-1950s.

Swissport immediate set out upon global expansion, creating international subsidiaries and joint ventures. In January 1997, the company acquired a 40 percent holding in Munich Airport's Airport Services Muenchen GmbH unit and began providing ground services at London Heathrow Airport. By the end of the year, Swissport's operations had spread to Israel, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Kenya.

Revenues were CHF 420 million in 1997. Swissport had 3,000 employees at the time and operations at just three stations. In the late 1990s, operations were expanded to South Africa, Turkey, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Peru, and the United States.

In 1999, Swissport acquired the ground handling operations of Aer Lingus at London's Heathrow Airport. About the same time, the European Union required airports to open up their ground handling activities to competition, clearing the way for regional expansion.

World's Largest in 1999

Another acquisition, in the United States, boosted Swissport's employment to 15,000 people and made it the world's largest ground handler. The company paid about $155 million (CHF 240 million) to buy DynAir Holdings Inc. from Alpha Airports Group Plc of the U.K. in July 1999. DynAir operated at 55 U.S. airport stations.

Revenues exceeded CHF 1 billion in 2000, when there were 17,000 employees working for Swissport. The number of stations served was up to 127, as the company opened, acquired, or bought into units in Greece, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic. The company operated in 22 countries altogether. Swissport posted an operating result of CHF 84 million for the year.

London investment firm Candover Partners Limited acquired a controlling interest in Swissport in 2002. Candover paid CHF 580 million for its 85 percent holding. Previous owner SAir Group was then in bankruptcy, having folded within weeks of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. (Ground Handling International 's October 2003 issue featured a detailed discussion of the deal with Charlie Green, a director of Candover Partners who helped oversee the management buyout.) Established in 1980, Candover had backed over 100 companies but this was its first investment in the ground handling business.

During 2002, subsidiaries in the Netherlands and Puerto Rico were shut down, while Swissport opened units in Honduras and acquired Benelux handlers Cargo Service Center BV and CS-Lux. Cargo Service Center, formerly owned by D Logistics AG of Germany, operated at 61 stations in 15 countries and had annual revenues of about CHF 200 million. The CS-Lux buy brought Swissport into Luxembourg, an important cargo hub, where it competed with the handling operations of freight carrier Luxair.

The year 2003 saw the opening of units in Uruguay and India. Swissport also took over the Geneva operations of Cargologic and entered the PrivatPort joint venture with PrivatAir. PrivatPort, based in Geneva, offered ground handling, catering, and VIP services for executive jets. This market was expected to grow due to the inconvenience to passengers of airline security measures.

Swissport also acquired a majority stake in the new Unitpool container venture. Unitpool, based in Zurich, was a world-leading supplier of shipping containers for air cargo.

Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. (SWISS) was the company's largest client, and in June 2003 Swissport announced it was cutting about 350 jobs at its three bases in Switzerland due to downsizing at SWISS. Swissport had employed about 3,000 people at airports in Zurich, Basel and Geneva. Revenues were up to CHF 1.2 billion ($950 million) in 2003, when Swissport employed about 20,000 people. Operating result was CHF 93 million.

New Frontiers in 2004 and Beyond

Zurich-based Protectas Aviation Security Ltd. was acquired in early 2004. It had operations in Switzerland and Africa and 240 employees providing security for about two-dozen airlines. Security was seen as an important growth market after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In 2004, Swissport also acquired Groundstar Ltd. from rival 3i Group. Groundstar, which had 2,000 employees, offered ground handling at five U.K. airports beyond Swissport's grand handling operation at Heathrow and cargo facility in Manchester.

Swissport had led a wave of industry consolidation. It was also pioneering new ways of working with clients. A new five-year global cooperation agreement with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was seen as the way of the future between ground handlers and carriers.

Swissport streamlined its regional divisions from five to three in April 2004. The company was focusing on the fast-growing Asian market. The company won a ten-year license to become Changi Airport's third ground handler beginning in July 2005.

Swissport shut down its subsidiary at London's Heathrow Airport in November 2004 after several years of losses. The operations at five other U.K. airports were not affected.

Swissport broadened its range of ground services offerings in Zurich and Geneva by acquiring aircraft moving and de-icing services from SR Technics. Swissport, which was aiming to be a single-source ground services supplier for airlines, expected to derive considerable synergies from the new tasks. Swissport was also opening its first fueling operation outside the United States, at Newcastle International Airport.

Swissport sought to streamline the frustrating airport check-in experience through its new "Secure Check" system developed with ICTS International N.V. Secure Check began a trial run at Zurich Airport in December 2004.

In January 2005, Swissport announced it was divesting its operations at France's Toulouse and Nice airports to MAP-Handling. Swissport held on to its stations at Paris Charles de Gaulle and several other French airports.

Swissport was reentering freight handling operations at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in March 2005. Schiphol was Europe's third largest air cargo hub. Swissport's earlier joint venture there had closed in 1999. Swissport was also expanding capacity at its other Benelux stations.

Another part of Swissport's plans was a potential initial public offering in 2005. The company seemed positioned to do well. Analysis in the trade publication Airline Business suggested that carriers would continue to outsource aviation services in order to focus on customer management issues.

Company Perspectives:

Swissport delivers everything you need. You want to be sure that your passengers and assets are in good hands. You also think: the fewer hands, the better. That's why Swissport has been working intensively for years to make the single-source vision come true.

Key Dates:

Swissport is formed.
Acquisition of U.S.-based Dynair makes Swissport the world's largest ground handling company.
London's Candover Partners Limited acquires a controlling interest in Swissport.
PrivatPort executive jet handling business is formed; Swissport acquires a stake in Unitpool container venture.

Principal Subsidiaries

Checkport Schweiz AG; Dar es Salaam Airport Handling Company Ltd. (DAHACO) (Tanzania; 51%); Havas Havaalanlari Yer Hizmetleri AS (Turkey; 40%); PrivatPort (joint venture with PrivatAir); Q.A.S. Quality Airport Services Israel Ltd. (50%); S. Stuttgart Ground Services (joint venture with Stuttgart Airport); Swissport Baggage Sorting AG; Swissport Dominicana SA (34%); Swissport GBH Peru SA (49%); Swissport Hellas SA (Greece; 50%); Swissport USA, Inc.; Unitpool.

Principal Divisions

Division Americas; Division Asia/Africa; Middle East & Cargo; Division Europe.

Principal Operating Units

SCS (Swissport Cargo Services); SEA (Swissport Executive Aviation); SFS (Swissport Fueling Services); SMS (Swissport Maintenance Services).

Principal Competitors

GlobeGround GmbH; Menzies Aviation Group; Servisair plc; Worldwide Flight Services, Inc.

Further Reading

Bulkeley, Andrew, "Swissport to List Shares," Daily Deal, September 1, 2004.

"Changes to Top Management At Swissport International," Hugin, February 24, 2004.

"Candover in Swissair Talks," European Venture Capital Journal, September 2001, p. 83.

Done, Kevin, "Swissport Cuts 750 Jobs in Heathrow Shutdown," Financial Times (London), November 17, 2004, p. 2.

Edwin, Wilfred, "Gov't Offloads Its DAHACO Shares," All Africa, April 11, 2003.

Gill, Tom, "Ground Handling Goes Acquisition Crazy," Airline Business, August 31, 1999, p. 11.

"Huge Interest as Swissair's Parent Starts Big Sell-Off," Evening Standard. March 26, 2001.

"In or Out? When Swissport's Management Wanted to Realise a Dream They Approached an Equity Investor for Help," Ground Handling International, October 2003, pp. 44ff.

Mathew, James and M. Ahmed, "Swissport May Take over Cambata Aviation," Business Standard (India), January 16, 1999, p. 11.

O'Toole, Kevin, "The New Leaders in Handling: Ground Handling Is Developing a Higher Profile in the Industry, Attracting a New Style of Leadership," Airline Business, January 2000, p. 78.

Paisner, Guy, "Candover Moves to Reassure as Swissport Heathrow Collapses,", November 16, 2004.

"SAirGroup Unit Expands in Africa, South America," Neue Zuercher Zeitung, June 15, 2000, p. 12.

"Schiphol Handling Company Dutchport to Close End January," Reuters News, December 5, 2001.

Sreenivasan, Ven, "Swissport Is Changi's Third Ground-Handler; It Beats Worldwide Flight and Will Start Ops in July 05," Business Times Singapore, June 30, 2004.

"Swissair Sister Company Eyeing Local Catering/Cruise Ship Services," Caribbean Business, November 13, 1997, p. 2.

"Swissport Acquires Groundstar Ltd. from 3i to Enhance Its Position in the UK Ground Handling Market," Hugin, April 8, 2004.

"Swissport Acquires Key Ground Services Functions from SR Technics at Zurich and Geneva Airports," DPA-AFX, November 19, 2004.

"Swissport Acquires Luxembourg-Based CS-Lux and Gains Access to One of Europe's Key Air Cargo Hubs," Hugin, October 15, 2002.

"Swissport Acquires Protectas Aviation Security Ltd. and Establishes Itself in the Global Airline and Airport Security Business," Hugin, February 9, 2004.

"Swissport and EDS Sign Long-Term Strategic Agreement," Market News Publishing, April 30, 2004.

"Swissport and KLM Conclude Multi-Year Worldwide Ground Handling Agreement," Hugin, April 1, 2004.

"Swissport and PrivatAir Co-Found Ground Handling Company in Geneva for Executive Private Jets and Lay Plans for a Global Cooperation," Hugin, May 6, 2003.

"Swissport Awaits Final Nod on DynAir," Ground Handling International, July 1999, p. 2.

"Swissport Buy-Out Completed," International Financial Law Review, March 1, 2002, p. 10.

"Swissport Chosen to Provide Fuelling Operations at Newcastle International Airport," Europe Intelligence Wire, November 18, 2004.

"Swissport Continues Global Push," Airports International, April 1, 2000, p. 17.

"Swissport International Ltd Continues to Grow (Weiterer Wachstums-sprung Bei Swissport), Neue Zurcher Zeitung, November 23, 1999.

"Swissport Reports Interesting Business Developments In France and the UK," Europe Intelligence Wire, January 21, 2005.

"Swissport's Container Venture," Ground Handling International, October 2003, p. 68.

"Swissport to Merge German Ops with AHS," Reuters News, February 22, 2000.

Swissport to Start Cargo Operations st Amsterdam Airport, Gaining Access to Europe's Third-Biggest Airfreight Hub," Hugin, January 27, 2005.

"Trading Places: Management Buy-Outs Ultimately Look to Be Sold On; and Groundstar's Sale Has Come at a Propitious Moment, Reckons CEO Nigel Daniel," Ground Handling International, June 2004, pp. 48f.

Turpin, Andrew, "Menzies Stalking Swissport," Scotsman (Edinburgh), January 31, 2005, p. 2.

"Universal Teams with Swissport to Offer Ground Handling in France," Weekly of Business Aviation, January 8, 2001, p. 18.

Frederick C. Ingram