National expands Asian commercial focus

"The world just became a smaller place. National is ready and able to complete any mission, anytime, anywhere." That tag line put beside what Preston Murray, president and CEO, National Air Cargo often likes to say: "Our mantra is big, heavy, ugly, and fast, so we look for industries that have that kind of requirement", encapsulates what the 25-year old freight forwarding and airlift company is doing best. Manfred Singh has the story.

Always at the forefront of the action, National boss Christopher Alf recently donated money for the victims of the Japanese Tsunami/ earthquake. The carrier was, in fact, one of the first operators in Haiti and even donated one of its DC8’s to carry in aid supplies. Alan White, Regional Director – PACRIM, puts it rather succinctly when he was asked what made National so different from others in the same business: “Our people and our plan”. Those in National have a passion for the business, he says. “Our pedigree is military support transportation and our operation is designed to run with military-like precision,” said White. And as for the business plan, it is “designed around the fact that we are not limited to fixed routes and schedules. We fly where the clients want to fly and when the client wants to fly.” Founded in 1985 by Alf, who is the Chairman of the Group, National made waves recently when it received permission to offer passenger charters internationally. Perhaps the first cargo carrier to do so – most do it the other way round, starting with passengers and picking up freight along on the way – National is looking to ride the Asian boom. Commented White: “From India through to Australia and most countries in between, National has been developing development plans in these countries through the offering of our B747-400BCF charter flights which, to date, have been particularly successful in Hong Kong and Shanghai and to which we hope to broaden this capability to other markets during the course of 2011 and beyond.” Upping the Asia focus Asia is a big part of National’s business. “We have operated over 100 flights from various points Asia to various destinations since our inaugural flight in September 2010.” In fact, National’s most recent expansion was the opening of the HKG office within the AAT facility at HKG airport. As for passenger services, National was exploring demand in the Asian region and in markets “we can service,” said White. Once the company receives the certification from the FAA, “our B757-200 ETOPS combi aircraft will be able to fly between Asia and the US carrying a mixture of passengers and freight on a charter basis. We believe these aircraft will be in demand for musical band movements as well as other niche operations,” said White. Alf, recently, registered a “Yuhan Hoesa” company in Seoul, South Korea in order to continue the company’s Asia expansion. Similar to a limited liability company, the new entity is part of an overall strategic plan to enhance growth and develop new business opportunities in developing marketplaces. White said that National’s official presence in South Korea was an exciting development that demonstrated the company’s resolve to continue to invest in key markets. “South Korea over recent years has seen a tremendous growth in its manufacturing exports which has created demand for National to provide its services for our airline and forwarding divisions. We see this potential elsewhere such as India and Vietnam and the company will be looking at how we can continue to expand our capabilities there too.” Timing right for diversifying For National, the move is indeed well thought-out: The economy is still in the process of revival in Europe and the US, while Asia is on the rise. Indeed, it is a calculated business shift. Since the beginning of the 1990s, National Air Cargo has provided high quality and efficient freight forwarding services basically for American military customers. In fact, a large portion of the company’s business comes from the US Department of Defense but over the last few years, it has started diversifying and the new Korean venture is proof enough of that. In fact, the Korean office is one more cog in National’s Asian move and will add muscle to the four functioning bases of the company: The US operations are controlled out of New York; the Europe division functions from Frankfurt; Dubai has the Middle East office and the Asian headquarters are in Malaysia. National is, incidentally, a civilian reserve air fleet. Simply put, it opens the door for the company to US government contracts that may mean moving anything that the US military might want it to move, from medicines and food to uniforms and even aircraft engines. While a major portion of these goods would entail movement by sea but when time-bound deliveries are the need, National steps in to do the job operating, what it refers to as “the speed of the spoken word”. Now that it is committed to reaching out to areas that are strictly commercial, National believes that it will do well with its present fleet comprising three B747- 400BCFs, a B757-200 for passengers, four B757-Combis (under conversion) and two DC-8Fs.