Q&A with Mr. Stephen Fernandez, Regional Director – APAC at Air Charter Service in Hong Kong
When did Air Charter Service get established and who owns the company today? Where is the head office and where are the branch offices?
ACS was established in 1990. Chris Leach is the founder of the company. ACS’s headquarters are in London, with a network of 20 offices spanning North America, South America, Europe, Africa, CIS, Middle East, Asia and Australia.
What are the advantages of contacting your company instead of an airline direct?
Every Air Charter Service client, worldwide, is allocated a dedicated and highly experienced account manager who can provide the perfect charter solution quickly and effectively. For charter flights in different regions, our international network of 20 offices work together to find the best solution (with access to 50,000 aircraft worldwide), using their expert local knowledge. All our account managers have knowledge of a huge range of different aircraft types, not just a specific category. This means you can speak to the same account manager, whatever your charter needs. Our phones are manned 24/7, 365 days a year. Each charter is monitored closely, and all appropriate updates are reported to you. This may include updates on the status of the aircraft or weather conditions which may affect air traffic. Post-flight, all charter flight times and details are reported back to you, so you can provide the feedback which we use to maintain our exceptionally high standards.
Introduce us to some recent example(s) of ACS delivering project cargo.
One recent project that stands out was the delivery of the Americas heaviest ever air cargo.
The huge transformer, which weighed in at 182 tonnes, was flown from São Paulo to Santiago de Chile. From there it was transferred to its final destination, where it is a direct replacement for a damaged transformer in a plant near the capital.
Richard Thompson, President of ACS Americas, commented: “The power unit is more than four metres high, and that doesn’t include the transportation cradle that it is travelling in. As you can see from the photo, it was a tight fit, even for the world’s largest cargo aircraft…”
Are you specialised in a particular type of aircraft or can you provide any kind of aircraft needed?
With a diverse client base comes diverse charter flight requirements. To accommodate the broad spectrum of needs of our clients an ACS account manager must first know what aircraft is suitable for a given enquiry, which operators have those aircraft, which are geographically well positioned and meet regulatory requirements.
It’s fair to say that we provide aircraft from the very smallest to the largest, from fixed wing to rotary. Within the company, account managers naturally find the niche that suits them best and end up specialising in charter flights for everything from livestock to aerospace parts and everything in between.
What information do you need in order to make a quick indication & quote to a customer?
· Description of the cargo
· The dimensions and weight of the largest piece
Does it take time to get landing permissions for charter aircrafts? Tell me something about the challenges that may arise when facing difficult destinations around the world.
For some airlines who have gone through a pre-approval process and some countries landing / overflight permissions can be obtained simply through filing an application, without the requirement for the civil aviation authority to process and revert with an approval number.
More commonly though, an unscheduled flight application is required for every civil aviation authority in which the aircraft is landing in or overflying.
The civil aviation authorities processing times for unscheduled flight applications varies from 1 to 10 days. However, most civil aviation authorities are helpful and respond to urgent requests for unscheduled flight permissions e.g. for humanitarian aid, aerospace parts to recover aircraft that have gone technical, or equipment that would result in severe disruption to an entities day to day business activities (e.g. if there is an oil rig that has shut down).
We have found that the best way to overcome permit difficulties is to directly engage, politely and sincerely, with the civil aviation authorities and to gain an understanding of what each requires when processing an unscheduled flight application.
If a shipment is booked using one of your charter aircrafts what kind of airway bill do you provide to the customer? Is that your own airway bill or do you provide the airway bill from the airline direct? Must payment take place before the shipment is in effect?
The Airway bill number(s) will come from the airline whose aircraft we have procured for a particular charter flight.
If the charter is transporting cargo that is not a consolidation (in which case there could be >50 AWB numbers assigned), but the total payload is close to the maximum the aircraft can carry we would always obtain at least 2x AWB numbers. In these cases we advise our customer to have the majority of the cargo under 1x AWB and contingency offload cargo on the 2nd AWB number. The reason being, that if on the day of the flight weather or other factors mean the whole payload cannot be uplifted then the majority of the cargo can travel on that 1x AWB and the contingency can be offloaded without any impact to customs arrival at destination.
In most cases payment for charter flights is up front. ACS does provide credit to our larger customers who have a proven track record of paying punctually.
Whom to contact in case you have a shipment originating from Europe? From Asia? Is there any particular geographical split up when it comes to airfreight quotations? How quickly can you indicate/quote a freight?
It depends on the contact points. If the contact point is in Asia, our brokers in our Hong Kong office will be the local contact point even if the origin is in Europe or the US. Our global network enables us to work efficiently and effectively no matter where the origin of your shipment is.
Indication wise can be immediate and in most cases our experience and internal record of all quoted enquiries allow for accurate indicative rates.
Speed of a real quote really depends on whether or not the carrier(s) are best suited for the enquiry have a commercial department that is up and awake at the time of enquiry. Of course for super urgent requests we regularly wake up our friends at the airlines for assistance.
How did you end up in Air Charter Service? Tell us about your background before joining Air Charter Service.
I graduated in 2003 from City University – CASS Business School with a degree in Economics. With the strong passion in the aviation industry, I put all my efforts into flying and obtained my private pilots licence (self-funded) the same year I graduated from school. Under economic turmoil, most airlines cut their cadet pilot quota when I joined ACS in 2006. Seems being shifted from the dream of being a pilot, I still remember what the Chairman told me during my interview:
“You don’t want to be a pilot, you want to be the boss of the pilots.”