Exclusive – Virgin Atlantic Cargo prefers to play foul

Many English terms have found their way into the languages of our world. Lately, this has increasingly been happening in the digital space. Words such as ‘online’, ‘homepage’, ‘website’, etc. are recognized in many languages. In contrast, ‘fair play’ is a timeless classic term. It expresses an attitude of consideration, respect and tolerance towards others, whether in sport, politics or business. What is currently happening at Virgin Atlantic Cargo, however, is more foul play than fair play. As evidenced by a contentious GSA tender recently launched by Virgin Cargo in Europe.

According to investigations conducted by CargoForwarder Global and based on documents, newcomer Azure Air Cargo Ltd. of Bracknell near London, is at the center of this objectionable case.

The company was entered into the commercial trade register of Bracknell on 20DEC23, under the registry number: 15363732. The founding document vaguely mentions ‘management consultancy activities’ as the main purpose of its business, without an explicit reference to GSA tasks.

Critics accuse Virgin of unethical behavior in its tender policy – photo: courtesy Virgin

Steve Buckerfield in a dual role
Steve Buckerfield is Head of Cargo Sales at Virgin Atlantic. Steve, who also co-owns Azure Air Cargo, is currently on sabbatical until further notice. This is stated in a letter to customers, written by Phil Wardlaw, Managing Director Cargo at the UK carrier. “He will be working independently in relation to a response to the RFP [tender] to implement a new EU operating model… [This] is why he is now on a period of sabbatical leave.”

RFPs allow its initiators to find out more about the supplier’s company. Suppliers must describe the requested goods/services in detail and often also complete a special questionnaire.

Questionable information disparity
Buckerfield has had firsthand information and obviously had a lot of insightful insight information before he went on a sabbatical. This entire setting offers Azure a unique opportunity to secure itself a big slice of the Virgin cargo cake. After being awarded the master contract, it could conclude deals with local sub agents, as indicated by sources to CargoForwarder Global. This is very likely, since no other contender has this insider knowledge compared to Buckerfield and his Azure. If so, it would distort basic competition rules. 

Violation of compliance rules
Following the restructuring of Virgin’s EU operating model which, of course, has to be finally approved by Phil Wardlaw and management, Buckerfield could potentially return to his previous post at Virgin Cargo if his Azure Air Cargo would not be awarded the tender. There, he would need to work again with the same colleagues that didn’t select his company, which would create an awkward working relationship.

Obviously, the chances for him to win the contract with inside knowledge and possibly sr. management support within Virgin Cargo, are far greater.

For him, a golden era might begin as he would benefit either way: as a senior executive at Virgin Atlantic Cargo or in his role as co-owner of a company that has become a close partner in Virgin’s freight activities. If this were to happen, and there are many indications that it will, the behavior would not only be unethical, it would also violate applicable compliance rules.

Foul instead of fair play
Fair play looks different. Other contenders losing out in the tender will probably call it foul play because of Buckerfield’s insider knowledge and the information privilege of his Azure Air Cargo Ltd. They must feel like the noble knight Don Quixote, who unsuccessfully battled windmills.

Virgin Atlantic Cargo operates a large fleet of passenger aircraft carrying air cargo in their lower deck compartments. Continental Europe contributes most to the export volumes, while the UK accounts for the remaining. All consignments contributed by the industries in mainland Europe are trucked to Heathrow. Only exception in Europe is a freighter flight connecting Brussels with Heathrow.

CargoForwarder Global reached out to general sales agents who represent Virgin Cargo in Europe, such as the Kales Group or the ECS Group. While ECS no responded, Kales Airline Services declined to make any comment on the process and suggested to contact Virgin Atlantic Cargo directly for feedback. This has been done last Thursday (14MAR23). However, a message left on the voicemail of Virgin Cargo’s communication department with an urgent request for a callback was left without reaction until this CFG issue was published.

Louise Gallagher, PR Manager Virgin Atlantic sent this reaction to our article, asking us to display it online. We certainly comply with this request, HS.Our plans for 2024 include the implementation of a new EU operating model, designed to improve our customer journeys, drive incremental revenue and grow market share. We’re in the preliminary stages of a tender process and are currently awaiting proposals from a number of our European GSAs. As with all business procurement decisions, we’re committed to ensuring a robust and fair process throughout, which is fully compliant with our independent procurement and legal procedures.

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