The History and Development of ASL Aviation Holdings
ASL Aviation Holdings was formally established as ASL Aviation Group in June 2008 and its origins date back to 1970 in South Africa when Safmarine acquired Tropair (Pty) Ltd., changing its name to Safair Freighters (Pty) Ltd and to 1972 when Air Bridge Carriers (ABC) was formed in the United Kingdom.
Originally operating with four Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft that flew fresh produce from the Channel Islands, Air Bridge Carriers service was soon supplemented by ad-hoc charter work specialising in ‘awkward loads’ including aircraft engines and heavy machinery for the developing North Sea oil fields.
In 1976, the company welcomed its first Vickers Merchantman aircraft. This heralded an introduction to new markets such as fresh fruit flights through the Gulf and the Middle East as well as overnight newspaper flights.
At the beginning of the 1980s the overnight express parcels business was in its infancy in Europe and ABC was ideally placed to take advantage of this. TNT, FedEx, DHL and UPS were all nightly customers of the carrier.
The company was subsequently acquired by the Hunting Group and the fleet was enhanced further with the introduction of several Boeing 727 and Lockheed Electra aircraft, the majority of which were placed on the Irish register.
In 1992 that the Hunting Group decided to re-brand all its subsidiaries and Air Bridge changed overnight to Hunting Cargo Airlines with a bold new corporate image. All the airline’s operations were transferred to Ireland in 1997, the same year that saw the introduction of the first Airbus A300-B4 to the fleet.
The Hunting Group decided to sell off all its aviation related companies in June 1998 the airline was sold to a consortium comprising Compagnie Maritime Belge NV from Belgium (CMB) and Safair (Pty) Ltd based in South Africa, part of the Imperial Group. In 1994 Safair Freighters (Pty) Ltd., had been renamed Safair (Pty) Ltd. The sale to the CMB/Safair consortium prompted a change of name to Air Contractors (ACL).
Following the restructuring of services with DHL and the end of the operation of the B727s, ACL acquired an interest in BAC Group Limited based in Southend, England. Through that interest it expanded its turbo-prop operations and embarked upon a major upgrade of the fleet with the modern and fuel-efficient ATR family.
In 2007, the Imperial Group divested itself of all aviation-related businesses which were acquired by 3P Airfreighters. At the same time, an interest was acquired in Europe Airpost and its fleet of Boeing 737 Classic aircraft which flew a combination of postal and passenger services.
This prompted the decision to rename the holding company and co-ordinate all the different operators under a single new identity and so ASL Aviation Group was born in 2008.
In late 2010, the acquisition of the Safair Group was finalised, a move that included its leasing and airline operations, based in South Africa and in 2013, Safair introduced a BBEE (Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment) program, allowing ASL to retain a minority shareholding in the South African company.
Also in 2013, Air Contractors signed a contract with Aer Lingus to operate three Boeing 757 aircraft on transatlantic routes between Ireland and New York, Boston and Toronto.
In 2013 Safair established a new low-cost airline in South Africa but was unable to launch until October 2014 due to regulatory challenges. The airline quickly created a sea-change in the domestic market and was profitable by year two. By October 2018, after just 4 years in operation, FlySafair had gained an 18% share of the South African domestic market.
In December 2014 ASL completed the acquisition of the Farnair Group in Switzerland. This increased the number of affiliate airlines in ASL to seven and saw a further increase in aircraft owned and/or operated in the fleet to over 100.
2015 saw the Group’s European airlines rebranded as ASL Airlines, with Air Contractors becoming ASL Airlines Ireland, Europe Airpost became ASL Airlines France and Farnair Switzerland and Farnair Hungary became ASL Airlines Switzerland and ASL Airlines Hungary respectively.
In May 2016, ASL Aviation further expanded its portfolio when it acquired the airline operations of TNT Express N.V., comprising TNT Airways (Belgium) and Pan Air Líneas Aéreas (Spain). These two airlines were renamed ASL Airlines Belgium and ASL Airlines Spain respectively and increased the total number of airlines within the Group to nine.
In 2017 the ASL holding company was renamed ASL Aviation Holdings and the Group reached a revenue milestone, surpassing USD$1 Billion for the first time.
In 2018 the Group continued to position itself for continued future growth, restructuring its airlines to increase efficiency, remove duplication and to create centres of excellence.
In February 2019, STAR Capital Partnership LLP, (“STAR Capital”), a leading European fund manager reached agreement with ASL Holdings shareholders, Compagnie Maritime Belge (51%) and 3P Air Freighters (49%), to acquire ASL Aviation Holdings, subject to customary approvals.
With all approvals in place, the acquisition closed on 4th June 2019 and STAR Capital became the 100% shareholder in ASL Aviation Holdings.
The Group now operates a fleet of circa 130 aircraft on 6 continents.