An article by Oliver Graue. Published in BizTravel. 20 August 2018.
Translated by Zeitfracht.
Business travellers sometimes travel with WDL: the only family-run airline in Germany flies on behalf of major players. And it has big plans. BizTravel met the owner Zeitfracht.
The start had been planned for many years. “For us, aviation is an ideal complement to road freight transport,” says Wolfram Simon, boss and co-owner of Zeitfracht: “On the ground, traffic’s getting denser, regulations are getting stricter.” The concrete opportunity to get into the air came in 2017 when the Berlin logistics company acquired both the cargo division of the insolvent Air Berlin and the Cologne-based airline WDL. Especially in passenger aviation, many people heard the name Zeitfracht for the first time – and even the WDL flew under the radar of some industry experts, even though it was founded in 1974. The machines of the Swiss Skywork would probably also belong to the Berliners today if the Swiss had not saved themselves in the last second.
Aviation, that is simply the name of the new holding company of the group founded in 2017, in addition to the existing three areas of logistics with a total of more than 500 trucks and public transport buses, real estate and technology. The conglomerate is “governed” in a building in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Simon has his office there and continues the work of company founder Horst Walter Schröter, who died in 2013, in the third generation. Simon, 37 years old, manages Zeitfracht together with his wife Jasmin Schröter. The two want to expand the ideas that the founder Schröter, who comes from Stendal, once developed and transfer them to aviation: Schröter – co-founder of the German Parcel Service DPD – used free loading areas on trucks running along the line to transport parcels.
Fleet grows significantly
Simon and his team of more than 1000 employees have developed an appropriate model for aviation. They’ve found free space on the budget airlines, but due to short ground times, they have not been able to load any cargo so far. That’s what Zeitfracht wants to change: With the help of a new method, small packages can be loaded so quickly that the low-cost air carriers can keep to their tight turnaround times. For a long time, the company has been chartering out classic holiday flight providers, TUI as well as Thomas Cook. Blue Air is the latest addition.
The mix of cargo and passenger traffic is only one thing. The other is the expansion of pure passenger business. Simon jokingly describes the 130 WDL employees as “our Cologne troop”. Their business model is wet-leased except for charter: with its three BAe 146-200 (Jumbolino) aircraft with around 100 seats, WDL operates flights for other airlines. To meet the customers’ demand, Simon just bought another Jumbolino: The cuddly four-beamers are considered robust and reliable and are popular with passengers for their seating comfort. The identification of the aircraft taken over from the British Cello Aviation – Foxtrot Romeo, FR – shows that “it is the very first aircraft that we put into service as Zeitfracht”, says the 37-year-old.
Further machines have already been ordered: The Jumbolinos will soon be joined by twin-jet regional jets. In total, the company is planning a fleet size of ten machines. In terms of personnel, however, it has strengthened with several managers from Air Berlin. Many of them had previously worked for Germania (Gexx), founded by Hinrich Bischoff. No question, Zeitfracht wants to establish itself as a professional player in passenger flights. To underline its willigness, WDL has joined both the Federal Association of German Airlines (BDF) and the Board of Airline Representatives in Germany (Barig) in recent weeks.
Simon is proud to uphold the the flag of the middle class in an industry that is diametrically opposed to the classic German SME structure. “We are the only fully family-run airline in Germany,” he says. And one of the very few niche flyers at all. “We do not offer mass-produced goods. We focus on service and want to show our passengers that flying is still something special.”
Simon and his wife want to be guided by the values of the German middle class. “First, we’re striving for slow and healthy growth,” he says. “Second, we don’t want to be disruptive, and third, we never live beyond our means.” They only buy “what we can pay for”. The sale of the DPD stake at the end of 2016 should have brought him important funds for his entry into aviation. Simon, it seems, is certain of his cause. For him applies what is written on the chocolate that WDL guests get when they get out of the plane: “Et hätt noch emmer joot jejange” (Cologne colloquial language for: It always worked out fine before).