The Challenge Group, which includes two freighter airlines, cargo handling and logistics businesses, is aiming to triple the size of its fleet over the next five years as it builds on a busy start to the decade.
Challenge Group chief executive Yossi Shoukroun tells Air Cargo News that much has changed at the business since the start of the Covid pandemic as demand for its fleet of four B747 full freighters – two operated under the CAL brand and two under Challenge Airlines BE – has been strong and it has experienced “tremendous growth” across the business.
Shoukroun said that 2021 was a record year for the company and based on the results of the first quarter the company is expecting the trend to continue. In line with the rising demand, the company has expanded its network.
“Over the past two years, we have continued to serve our traditional trade lane to Tel Aviv from our European hub in Liege, and increased our presence in the US, complementing the existing weekly frequencies to New York JFK with two additional flights into Atalanta (ATL), and a weekly service to Houston (IAH),” said Shoukroun.
“Furthermore, we deployed extra capacity into China with an almost daily operation into either Wuhan (WUH), Zhengzhou (CGO), or Hong Kong (HKG), and launched a twice-weekly service into the UAE out of Sharjah (SHJ), which is absolutely a promising new market for us.
“Our handling activity in Liege grew at the same pace, and we now manage a total of three facilities; one located on the south side, one in the north, dedicated to our own operations – a second line warehouse for import sorting and distribution, and the Horse Inn, as well.”
Looking ahead, the company plans to continue its expansion by adding new aircraft types.
“Our strategy is to triple our current fleet size and operate 12 aircraft within the next five years,” he said. “We aim to add four Boeing 767Fs and four B777F converted aircraft, and have applied for a new AOC in Malta, where Challenge Group is headquartered.
“Moving to twin-engine aircraft operations will enable us to implement a more sustainable business model. We are still evaluating which new destinations we will serve with this additional capacity.”
The investment comes as the passenger side of aviation has been slowly getting back to its feet and in line with this bellyhold capacity has been coming back into the market.
Despite this, Shoukroun is confident that this will not dampen demand for freighter aircraft. He points to the current dynamic political environment and high fuel prices as creating uncertainty in the general aviation market.
The ongoing disruption means that companies will continue to look to the stability that dedicated cargo operations provide compared with the unpredictable nature of the current bellyhold market.
And the importance of continuity of service is one reason why the company has invested in developing an end-to-end airfreight operation, said Shoukroun.
“Our vision is to be the preferred choice for customers, providing dependable integrated and tailor made solution and our mission is to empower customers global expansion by providing end-to-end air cargo solution,” he said.
“That is why we are willing to invest as much as possible in areas with trade potential, where we can be a key enabler in ensuring a consistent supply chain.
“And, just to highlight that we have a global approach to our industry with a strong focus on every single strategic activity that could positively influence our performance, we recently invested in our own maintenance company: Challenge Technic.”