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Chinese interests enable ACS to face COVID head-on
While all three of ACS's core divisions saw year-on-year increases, the bulk of its growth was driven by the company's cargo division; 80 per cent of air freight usually travels in the belly of scheduled passenger aircraft.
Justin Bowman says his team have taken the challenges in their stride.

Air Charter Service (ACS) has achieved record results with sales in excess of $1.2 billion in its financial year ending January 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique set of logistical challenges for many organisations and individuals, as the world's scheduled air network fell into chaos due to ever-changing travel restrictions and demand for urgent transportation of medical supplies. A combination of ACS's diversification strategy, global network of offices and experience in crisis situations put the company in a position to deal with unprecedented demand for its services.

While all three of ACS's core divisions of private jets, group charters and cargo saw year-on-year increases, the bulk of its growth was driven by the company's cargo division. With up to 80 per cent of air freight usually travelling in the belly of scheduled passenger aircraft, the cancellation of passenger flights meant that cargo charter solutions were needed to compensate, and ACS was in a strong position to provide them. This was particularly a consequence of the company's decade-old investment in the Chinese market from where a large amount of goods including PPE and test kits and, later on, more general cargo from reopening factories were being exported through often overwhelmed airports. ACS's diverse business also proved invaluable at the peak of the crisis when the demand for shipping goods by air exceeded the capacity of dedicated freighters, as its group charter division stepped in to source passenger aircraft for use in transporting cargo using their holds as well as goods being transported in the cabin.

The company's passenger divisions both had turbulent years with highs and lows as the pandemic progressed. Although initially during the evacuation phase ACS's global network lead to unprecedented demand for its services, lockdowns resulted in the collapse of business travel and major events such as the European Championships during certain periods, which resulted in significant reduction of demand. However, a concerted effort to target new audiences resulted in a record number of new customers being converted, which normalised demand towards the end of the year.

CEO Justin Bowman comments: “Due to our businesses in China, we had been dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak since January 2020. At that stage, we were extremely concerned at what it would mean for the aviation industry and our business. However, we are a business that was born out of dealing with crises and our global infrastructure and diversified business model, along with our remarkable team of people, came together to achieve a quite incredible result for any single charter broker. We had to radically change the way we worked, the audiences we were targeting and the aircraft we were chartering last year, and everyone here seems to have taken it in their stride.

“While these results are unlikely to be achieved again this year, they have allowed us to re-invest heavily in the business across a number of exciting strategies which are already generating returns. Some of these are already helping us to beat even our most optimistic forecasts for the current financial year, and we expect others to provide potentially exciting returns in the longer term.”

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