Kuwait’s NAS targets regional growth

With a modest start at Kuwait International Airport, National Aviation Services (NAS) has rapidly sought out expansion opportunities in emerging markets and now has cargo operations at 15 airports in the Middle East and India. But not content to stop there and given fresh optimism by the economic recovery, NAS is continuing to pursue its relatively low-key, but clearly aggressive expansion strategy. By Donald Urquhart.

“We are currently looking at a variety of cargo warehousing and cargo handling opportunities. Our key focus is on emerging markets such as the Middle East, Africa and the Indian sub-continent,” says NAS CEO Hassan El-Houry. “We believe these regions are where we can be competitive and where we can leverage our current relationships with airlines and/ or airport operators to win concessions and do well.” Top of NAS’wish list at the moment is the ongoing tender for the new Abu Dhabi Cargo Terminal, which El-Houry says is “a very interesting opportunity for 2011 with the future expected growth of Etihad in the world cargo market.” Indeed the whole Middle East market holds substantial potential, something it aims to tap at home with the announcement of a new cargo complex by Kuwait’s Civil Aviation authority. “This is something that NAS of course supports since Kuwait is a natural hub for East West Cargo traffic as is the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar and there are many unexploited opportunities for Kuwait to look at.” NAS has requested and been allocated a large plot of land within this Cargo City in order to build warehouses and other cargo-related facilities. Jordan’s Aqaba has also seen strong growth in 2010, according to El-Houry and he is optimistic that 2011 will see that growth continue. “The growing demand for perishable cargo out of East and Central Africa, as well as India are areas that NAS is set up to show strong growth in during 2011. The recent win of Qatar Airways in Goa is just one example of this,” he says. With cargo handling and warehouse services in eleven locations in India (Mumbai, Goa, Ahmedabad, Pune, Lucknow, Jabalpur, Jaipur, Delhi, Varanasi, Indore and Nagpur), Jordan (Aqaba) and its home-base of Kuwait, cargo now makes up a significant portion of NAS’business. While noting that cargo entails higher margins than traditional passenger ground handling activities, El-Houry says that in Kuwait cargo comprises nearly 25 per cent of the company’s business whereas in Aqaba it is 100 per cent and in India, the figures are mixed. Among its key clients at Kuwait are Lufthansa Cargo, Emirates Skycargo, United, Egyptair, Srilankan, Etihad, Qatar Airways, DHL, TNT and Fedex. In India the Mumbai business handled by CelebiNAS includes Jade Cargo, Deccan 360, Swiss World Cargo, Air Cargo Germany, while NAS India handles cargo at its other locations for Kingfisher and Air Arabia. In Jordan NAS undertakes cargo ground handling for the British Royal Air Force, US Air Force, Jordan Int’l Air Cargo (JIAC), Reliable Unique Services (RUS) Aviation and Barq Airlines. In 2010 NAS handled 71,442 tonnes or cargo in Kuwait, 86,198 tonnes in India while its CelebiNAS joint venture with Turkish ground handlers Celebi in Mumbai saw a monthly high in October of 10,875 tonnes and in Aqaba NAS handled 770 tonnes last year. “Traditionally, during times of economic recessions, cargo witnesses a larger drop than passenger handling and hence we are starting to see the cargo market grow as we emerge from the recession,” said El-Houry, adding that growth forecasts remain modest, but positive. “All of our key markets in the Middle East, Africa and India are set for strong export growth in 2011 in the case of Africa and India and Kuwait shows ongoing strong growth in imports. As well as overall growth globally we believe the emerging markets we are focusing our growth on for 2011 are all set to expand quicker than forecast global air cargo rates.”