Europe Airpost Sets Trends — And Achieves Big Results — In Versatility
Starting out in the early days of commercial aviation as a mail carrier based in France, Europe Airpost has become a successful freight and passenger airline built on the strength of its track record as a highly versatile carrier in an intensely competitive environment.
One of the most innovative among 21st-century airlines is Europe Airpost, which has grown in stature and reputation throughout its rich history.
The organization that would eventually evolve into the company now known as Europe Airpost started out as a no-frills, less-than-glamorous French-based mail carrier (although the airline delivered mail on three continents, an ambitious endeavor at that early stage of aviation).
Today, Europe Airpost is quite notable in the industry for its versatility, handling passenger and charter service, as well as mail and cargo, with alacrity and a forthright, “can-do” approach.
“The good utilization rate we can achieve with the mixed activity gives us better control on the extra cost margin that we can use to keep our customers,” said Philippe Lonnoy, director of flight operations for Europe Airpost. “They get better rates for all of our services, and we stay in business.
“We are able to offer our customers [other airlines and charter operators] an aircraft with a crew to go ‘anywhere’ in the world on very short notice. We can also provide an airplane for a longer period of time for a series of flights with our guarantee of quality service — punctuality and reliability — that are well above standards in the industry.”
A Storied Heritage
The beginnings of the airline that has become Europe Airpost date back to some of the most exciting (and relatively primitive) times of commercial air service, when a French carrier named Compagnie Genérale Aéropostale in 1927 forged its way into the initial stages of air-delivery of mail among the continents of Africa, South America and Europe.
Pilots who were employed by and flew daring routes for that airline included renowned aviators Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Jean Mermoz. They provided service to destinations in areas then considered extremely remote in Africa and South America that had never previously benefited from air deliveries on a regular basis.
Soon after World War II, the airline became part of Air France, flying as Société d’Exploitation Aéropostale, or SEA.
Then in 2000, Europe Airpost — now independent of Air France — began carrying mail for La Poste, the French national postal service. In 2008, the carrier was acquired by Air Contractors of Ireland. Following the acquisition, the group was rebranded as ASL Aviation Group. The airline continues to operate under the Europe Airpost name, which it has carried for more than a decade.
A Solid Record Of Success
With a fleet of 18 airplanes — including several Boeing 737-300QC (“quick change”) aircraft — Europe Airpost is a highly versatile carrier specializing in passenger service, cargo and mail delivery, and contracts its aircraft to fly for other airlines, as well as operating charter flights.
But these are not the only indicators of the leadership and trailblazing approach of Europe Airpost’s management team. The airline was the first in France to install the electronic flight bag (EFB) in its aircraft.
“The EFB is a very complex subject — not because it is highly sophisticated as such, but because the expectations many operators looking at EFBs have are unrealistic,” Lonnoy said. “The possibilities are not always well-known, and many dream of an EFB because it is ‘trendy.’
“If you want to save money in your flight operations — and if you want to select an option that will improve safety — you have no choice but to opt for takeoff and landing performances made real-time with a computer, whether in the cockpit or remote.
“Once you’ve made that decision and have reaped the huge savings associated with it, you now have a computer that you can use for many other applications.”
Lonnoy believes improving the information flow between the cockpit and the airline’s IT system leads to better operations.
“You wonder whether all that paper in your cockpits really belongs there,” said Lonnoy. “Getting rid of it and replacing it with electronic charts and documentation will help you reduce the weight in the aircraft, guarantee that the painful process of updating all publications onboard the aircraft will be done in an automated, controlled and safe manner, and save on manpower.”
Europe Airpost, in fact, takes pride in its industry-trendsetting efforts in all aspects of its business.
“Even though we may not necessarily be operating the most sophisticated aircraft fleet, we know that with a good use of smart technology we can do more, better and often cheaper,” Lonnoy said. “That is all to the benefit of our customers.
Cutting Edge Of Technology
To guarantee performance, safety, time gain and immediate response, Europe Airpost developed and implemented an array of innovative tools aboard its aircraft. Among them are the On board RTTO (Real Time Take Off) system, which maximizes take-off and landing perfor- mance; the On board E.D.S FLIGHT PLANNING system, which rationalizes fuel management, air control information and weather information; and the On board CFR (Captain Flight Report) system, which increases the reliability of communications in real time on board. In addition, it was the first airline in France to install the electronic flight bag in its aircraft.
“Moreover, in our very competitive environment — and taking into account the serious constraints that apply when you operate in France — any savings you can make on your operation, as long as it also contributes to an improvement in flight safety, must be implemented.
“A good example of this is the transition we made 10 years ago to laptop computers for computing takeoff and landing performances. Today, this has become very common, but back then we had to convince the French aviation authority that we were actually going to improve efficiency and safety.
“We could actually operate from airports that had been impossible to reach because of performance considerations. Then, we also had to decide whether that investment was worth it. We were the first one in France to do it.”
The ability to operate so confidently and profitably has a lot to do with Europe Airpost’s mix and configuration of aircraft, with quick-change passenger/cargo aircraft, as well as pure cargo airplanes, figuring prominently in the fleet.
Dealing effectively and efficiently with such a broad variety of different airplanes requires both an innovative and insightful approach.
“Until a couple of years ago, the backbone of our activity was the carriage of mail at night,” said Lonnoy. “The utilization rate of the aircraft was very low. We also understood that passengers were looking for flights from the major cities of France outside Paris to holiday destinations. And that is where our aircraft were spending the day after the night flights.
“This is how it started, but things have changed. And the passenger operation became more and more important for us, with passengers becoming more demanding.
“We have a very good knowledge of cargo operations. We have a good reputation, and we want to keep building on it. But the passenger activity has also become an important axis for our development. And we are now recognized by our business partners among other airlines as a high-priority and reliable provider.”
A sizable percentage of Europe Airpost’s business involves charter flights as well as contract agreements with other airlines that use Europe Airpost’s aircraft and rely on the carrier’s expertise in adapting its equipment and service — sometimes very quickly — to the needs at hand.
“About half of our aircraft are Boeing 737-300QC, which stands for ‘quick change,’” Lonnoy said. “This unique configuration was developed by Pemco, an aircraft configuration and conversion specialist, a couple of years ago. You take a 737, you open up a large cargo door on the side, you install a cargo-loading system on the floor, and you now have a 737 freighter.
“Then you put seats on pallets, you slide those pallets inside, and you now have a passenger aircraft. This, of course, is a lot more complicated, but that’s the idea.
“With a well-trained team, it takes less than half an hour for a Boeing 737 full of cargo to be unloaded, reconfigured and ready to go for a passenger flight.”
Europe Airpost makes itself available to work with its airline partners to help improve their operations and availability.
“Airlines with specific short- or medium-term needs know they can trust us if they need some help for a given period of time,” said Lonnoy. “We have had prestigious customers in the past who needed to find a provider able to do the work with the same high standards as the ones they operated.
“We can fill in gaps. This ‘opportunistic approach’ is not always the easiest thing for us to live with. But it has allowed us to build a reputation and to grow.”
Europe Airpost transports myriad cargo, such as general cargo, hazardous materials, perishables, live animals, mail and parcels, around the world for freight forwarders, airlines, and postal and express freight operators.
A Focus On Flight Planning
Many of the recent management endeavors at Europe Airpost have revolved around the carrier’s flight planning operations, because its former provider stopped offering that service.
That threw Europe Airpost’s leadership into overdrive to find a new flight planning provider.
“We had been surveying the market for some time already, trying to determine if the existent flight planning tool was the most appropriate for our needs,” Lonnoy said. “Parallel to that initiative, we had gone through the process of implementing an electronic flight bag upgrade or EFB2 using a solution from a longtime provider of Europe Airpost. They were also offering a solution to replace our existing flight planning management tool.
“It made good sense to select their product, in view of its integration with the EFB2. So the upshot is that before the need for a new flight planning system appeared clearly, we had a good picture of what the market could offer. The solution from Sabre Airline Solutions® was on our short list, but we still had a lot of research to do at that stage.”
After performing quick but painstakingly thorough due-diligence to find a new flight planning system, Europe Airpost, in 2013, selected Sabre AirCentre™ Flight Plan Manager, which was implemented in May 2014.
“It is one of the most sophisticated flight planning systems — if not the most sophisticated flight planning system — that will enable us to be competitive in a very difficult environment,” Lonnoy said.
The decision to select Flight Plan Manager from among the offerings of a large and competitive marketplace did not come without an exhaustive search-and-evaluation process.
“For us, considering the resources we could allocate to that project, our initial search was extensive and took about a year,” Lonnoy said. “Then the news broke that our provider was going to terminate the service.
“It put us in a very uncomfortable situation, since we knew that quite a few airlines were going to face the same problem as us, and that the implementation slots for a new candidate were going to be hard to secure.”
So Europe Airpost’s management team redoubled its efforts and established firm criteria for comparing products.
“We went back to our initial study and started building from there,” Lonnoy explained. “At that moment, we had a short list of four credible potential providers. We contacted all of them and started running cost-comparison analysis with all four.”
In its due-diligence efforts, Europe Airpost had several set requirements: 1) overall system performance — meaning reliability and computational accuracy; 2) cost; 3) customer support and hands-on assistance throughout implementation of the new system; and 4) a high level of automation.
Europe Airpost’s management team finally secured Flight Plan Manager based on numerous considerations.
“The solution really met all of our requirements,” Lonnoy said. “It is fair to say that the initial cost scared us at first. But after lengthy comparisons of routes computed with Flight Plan Manager versus other systems, we could validate a very ambitious ROI that was presented to us.
“Those figures have since then been validated in ‘real life.’
“Also, the outstanding first contact we had with people from Sabre Airline Solutions who, from the start, showed they were committed to make such a project a successful one for them and us really helped us gain the confidence required to embark on such a major project.”
Timing, as always, was critical. “Sabre Airline Solutions could also guarantee the system would be up and running before the death of the system that we had in use,” said Lonnoy. “The high level of automation offered by Flight Plan Manager enables us to provide our crews with the best flight plan available on a given day.
“It’s important to know that beyond the true and recognized competency of our people, the tools we put to use contribute to ensure the legality, as well as the optimization, of a given task. You cannot achieve a high level of optimization if you rely on human beings only, but you do not want any system to push beyond the legal limits, either.
“Our new system helps us achieve dramatic savings while maintaining a very high level of safety. And we expect it to be able to work at a high level of automation to optimize the process of planning a flight, thanks to the use of modern technology and the interactions of many databases.
“At the end of the day, what we want is an extremely reliable system that computes optimized flight plans while respecting all rules, decreasing the workload on flight dispatchers and helping us save money on each flight.”
Quick Change Aircraft
Europe Airpost operates a fleet of Boeing 737-300QC (quick change) aircraft that can be easily reconfigured to carry passengers or freight. Its team of highly trained professionals can unload a full aircraft of cargo and reconfigure it for passenger service in less than 30 minutes.
An Environmentally Oriented Organization
In its communications — on its website, as well as in press releases and briefings throughout its areas of operation — Europe Airpost meticulously publicizes its well-demonstrated commitment to environmentally sustainable operations.
“We are well aware that our sector of activity has always been targeted as a ‘non-environmentally friendly’ one,” said Lonnoy. “We also understand that our survival, especially when we talk about night-flying and noise, is directly related to our ability to minimize our negative impact on the environment and convince people that we do the utmost to accomplish this.
“Our pilot procedures, the techniques we develop, the tools we put in place have two objectives in common: economy and safety. And when you talk about economy, you end up targeting the impact on the environment.
“In the past, we had an initiative called ECO2. That program let us save fuel and, consequently, reduce the emission of carbon.
“With the implementation of Flight Plan Manager and the huge momentum it created, we have decided to launch a new program called ECO3. We will install software to help us monitor the effectiveness of the procedures and measures taken to minimize fuel consumption and production of CO2.
“In most of our activities, in fact, we try to measure and minimize our impact on our environment.”
An Aura Of Sustainable Growth
When all is said and done, Europe Airpost’s operation often leads the competition by setting high standards and matching those standards with superior performance. And the carrier bases its growth plan on proven success.
“We need to — and we will — expand, probably through a progressive renewal of the fleet, which is a growth mode we have seen already, and by serving niche markets like we have always done,” said Lonnoy. “We have been operating a demanding cargo network for a demanding customer among the many airlines and other users of our services with a high level of expectations for many years.
“And we think we’ve always met our objectives. Our know-how and our ‘customer-driven approach’ have contributed toward building a very positive and well-deserved image of our airline as real pros. Our customers know that this makes the difference.”
It appears Europe Airpost will continue making a difference, as its achievements in earnings and versatility transcend international borders and reverberate in industry discussions around the globe.