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Leading lights - Duncan Watson, Worldwide Flight Services

Duncan joined Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) as Vice President – Group Commercial Cargo in November, reporting to WFS’ Group Chief Commercial Officer, Barry Nassberg. Based at the company’s head office in Roissy, Paris, Duncan’s 30-year career has also included 18 years at DHL with local, regional and global commercial responsibilities and 11 years with Emirates Airline, ultimately holding the post of Vice President, Cargo Commercial Operations, based in Dubai, responsible for the airline’s cargo operations and commercial activities across the Americas, Africa and the Middle East.

What does a typical day in your job entail?

I can’t really describe a typical day because each one is different and that’s one of the reasons why I love the business. One day can bring a challenge, the next an opportunity. You get to experience an infinite variety of things working with customers across our global network and it’s an exhilarating working environment.   

What attracts you to the air cargo business?

It’s dynamic, it’s different – and it’s an industry that’s so important to all our daily lives. I also get to travel a lot because we work with over 270 airlines globally. I especially enjoy the face-to-face interaction with our customers, whether that’s in their head office, our HQ or at an industry conference.    

How significant is cargo handling for the business?

Air cargo is the biggest part of our business. WFS is the world’s largest air cargo handler and the WFS network spans 198 airports in 22 countries on five continents. For me, the most exciting aspect of our business is that we still have a great platform for growth. There are still lots of places on the map where we haven’t planted our flag yet. We have a significant opportunity to grow and the ambition and resources to leverage our customer relationships. This includes using our reputation for high quality, safe and secure cargo handling to influence customers to work with WFS for ground handling too because this is another part of our business we are determined to grow rapidly.

What key trend are you seeing in the air cargo market today?

You only need to read the industry media to know the cargo market has had a tough start to 2019 in terms of volumes – but that’s largely because we’re comparing it to 2017 and 2018, which were fantastic years. If we were to compare where we are now to 2015/16, you’d say we’re doing okay. I think the first half of the year and the summer months may remain challenging, but I do think things will improve as we move into the peak season and we’ll see a stronger, more robust end to the year.

We continue to see perishables, pharmaceuticals and e-commerce as engines of growth. I certainly think our airline customers are looking for more from their handling partners and we see much more willingness to sit round the table and to genuinely engage in conversations about how we can create value on both sides of the fence. We welcome these discussions and we are keen to explore every opportunity – including things handlers have probably never thought about before – but whatever we agree must be sustainable. We want more consistency because that’s the basis on which we can all get more value from our relationships.  >>


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