Aerocare cleared of union allegations then immediately sold to offshore giant, Swissport

Australian baggage handler company Aerocare announced it will be acquired by global cargo and handling services provider Swissport “in the coming weeks”, under an arrangement to recapitalise and position the company for future growth. The new ownership structure will also see Swissport acquire Aerocare subsidiary companies Skycare, Carbridge and EasyCart from existing owners. Swissport is owned by China’s HNA Group, which also holds a 20% stake in Virgin Australia.


Summary:

  • Swissport set to acquire Australian baggage handler company Aerocare “in the coming weeks”.
  • Swissport will acquire Aerocare subsidiary companies Skycare, Carbridge and EasyCart from existing owners.
  • Swissport’s unconditional offer has received all regulatory approvals, including from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board.

Aerocare is an independent baggage handler and provider of other aviation services across Australia and New Zealand, with operations at some 35 airports including Sydney Domestic and International Airports, Melbourne Airport and Brisbane Airport.

Swissport’s unconditional offer has received all regulatory approvals, including from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board. Sydney-based private equity firm Archer Capital originally bought the business in Jul-2014, for approximately AUD220 million, according to S&P Capital IQ data.

Swissport, is one of the world’s largest ground handling companies since it acquired rival Servisair in Dec-2013.  It is understood to have viewed Aerocare as part of a desire to grow in the Asia Pacific region.

Earlier this month, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) cleared Aerocare of safety and security breaches alleged by the Transport Workers Union (TWU), just in time for the sale. The investigation came about as a result of media reports relating to Aerocare’s worker scheduling system, the use of part time workers and its split shift scheduling method. Media reports claimed Aerocare’s Sydney Airport based ground handling contract workers were resting at the airport in between shifts as they were only given 4-6 hour breaks which, the union argued, was insufficient time and financially unreasonable to travel home for a proper rest.

CASA found that: “Based on the activities observed and the records sampled relating to operations during the surveillance period, the original complaints and accusations on fatigue management, safety reporting, use of untrained personnel, and document altering were unable to be substantiated in any systematic manner”.

Aerocare CEO Glenn Rutherford said the CASA findings vindicated the company’s safety and security standards. “The Australian aviation sector is amongst the safest in the world and Aerocare is a leading reason why”, he said, adding: “In 25 years of operation, and in handling more than one million flights, the Company has never seen a single penalty across safety, security or workplace safety. This is unique for an operation of this scale”.

The fact that HNA owns a share in Virgin Australia is unlikely to change the bargaining relationship between Aerocare and the Australian airline. HNA, while investing in a wide range of travel and associated companies, has not yet moved significantly towards generating synergies between its various acquisitions.