An article by Dominik Bath, published in Berliner Morgenpost
After the Air Berlin insolvency, the Berlin logistics company bought a subsidiary of the bankrupt airline. Now the managing director is working on new freight concepts.
On the ground floor of the Berlin logistics company Zeitfracht, every visitor still has to withstand the rigid gaze of the company founder. Horst Walter Schröter stands there cast in bronze right next to the staircase to the offices of the management. Schröter, the son of a haulage contractor, founded the company in 1947. In one of the rooms on the first floor, today’s Zeitfracht head Wolfram Simon sits and pronounces sentences that can hardly be heard from a company director anymore: “Time has stood still for a while,” says Simon, for example. And right after that: “We prefer peace in the company to returns.”. The business economist sits back leaning in a leather armchair. He explains that he was uncomfortable with the attention he also received last year. The coverage of the Air Berlin bankruptcy brought Zeitfracht into focus: the Berliners acquired the cargo company Leisure Cargo from the airline’s insolvency assets. Zeitfracht also had success with Air Berlin Technik together with the maintenance company Nayak. On the open market, the Berlin company also bought the charter airline WDL-Aviation.
The acquisitions have not only made Zeitfracht known nationwide. The new acquisitions have also changed the company’s business model: For the former truck forwarder Zeitfracht, work above the clouds has gained in importance. “We now generate a large part of our revenue from freight aviation,” says Simon, even though he doesn’t really like to talk about numbers. According to the Berliner Morgenpost, revenues rose to 250 million euros in 2017, and around 127 million euros were generated by cargo aircraft transport. In total, the logistics provider shipped around 120,000 tons of freight in the air.
While Wolfram Simon talks about the new time freight, he has casually crossed his legs. Simon wears a shirt, jeans and sneakers and explains the step into the air with the vision of Zeitfracht founder Horst Walter Schröter. Schröter, who died in 2013 at the age of 85, had formulated the goal during his lifetime to also send time freight packages on their journey by airplane. Simon is now working consistently on Schröter’s idea. One part is the former Air Berlin freight subsidiary Leisure Cargo. In Simon’s new business plan, however, the charter company WDL Aviation – also acquired last year – also plays an important role. WDL leases its own aircraft to other airlines as required. At present, the four aircraft of the Group subsidiary fly for the British low-cost airline Easyjet, which has significantly expanded its involvement in Berlin-Tegel following the Air Berlin bankruptcy. It was only at the beginning of April that Zeitfracht bought its fourth aircraft and integrated it into the WDL fleet. “This is a niche in which we want continue to grow,” says Simon.
But the machines that take off for Easyjet are apparently also part of an attempt to revolutionize the logistics of smaller express shipments weighing up to seven kilograms with Zeitfracht. “The goal is to establish a European network for small express freight items by the end of the year,” explains the company head. For it, Simon has his sights set above all on the freight spaces of budget airlines.
Up to now, Easyjet, Ryanair and Co. have been bypassing freight services, mainly because the additional task could extend the service life of the machines. Simon’s door opener is a special small container the size of a washing basket that can be quickly loaded and unloaded while the aircraft are standing. “This core element is being tested,” says Simon. Zeitfracht will cooperate with the DPD parcel service to transport fast consignments between airports and customers. The Berlin logistics company was once one of the founding members of DPD. By the end of 2016, however, the logistics company had disposed of its remaining shares.
The former headquarters shall be closed
Zeitfracht will not lose sight of the road business either. Simon wants to reorganise the area. The former head office of the forwarding agency in Stendal (Saxony-Anhalt) shall be closed. In future, freight transport by truck will be controlled from Berlin and Brieselang (Brandenburg). Growth could also bring further takeovers. Both in truck logistics and in the air traffic sector, acquisitions are conceivable, says Simon. Discussions are currently underway.
Wolfram Simon is at peace with himself as he talks about the plans. It seems that the many conversations with Horst Walter Schröter have kept the old Zeitfracht spirit with the new managing director. Zeitfracht, says Simon, has never made a loss in the company’s history, not even last year. “We only do something if we can pay for it,” explains Simon.
At the end of the conversation he says another sentence like that: “Imagine if we could afford it all on credit and then have no more work.” The logistics business for time freight is currently doing extremely well. The conservative handling of finances is intended to ensure that the logistician keeps track in the future, says Simon. Zeitfracht founder Horst Walter Schröter would certainly be delighted with this commitment.