This summer, Russi Batliwala celebrates his 30th anniversary with the world’s leading aircraft charterer broker.
Growing up in an aviation family, it was clear from a young age that a regular nine-to-five office job was never on the cards for Russi, and he was naturally drawn to pursue the activity he loved. Arriving in Germany at the age of 21, he began his career working for a number of commercial airlines before an intriguing job advertisement in a newspaper caught his attention with its headline ‘Aviation company needs a pair of hands to help’.
The year was 1987, and just a few days after spotting the ad Russi had joined Chapman Freeborn, paving the way for a successful career which has spanned three decades – and has taken him all the way from being a trainee charter broker to the head of a global aviation company.
In Russi’s early years with Chapman Freeborn, the charter business was focused on automotive cargo.
Recalling a transportation strike in Spain at the end of the 1980’s, he said: “This was the first challenging situation in my career. We stayed in the office 24 hours a day for several weeks arranging charter flights. My father was a pilot for a cargo airline appointed by Chapman Freeborn to operate a Boeing B-707 charter to Valencia. “
The formula for success
Russi continued to develop his career with Chapman Freeborn and he has been a key driver in the company’s growth.
He took over the management of Chapman Freeborn Germany in 1990, followed by the group’s worldwide cargo product in 2000. During his 30 years with the company he has been involved in setting up a number of key global charter operations - including subsidiary businesses in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.
Since his appointment as CEO of the Chapman Freeborn Group in 2009, Russi has been instrumental in developing a strategy for the company’s global expansion.
In addition to the group’s core aircraft charter and leasing activities, Russi has overseen the strengthening of the company’s portfolio of subsidiary businesses which include hand-carry specialist Chapman Freeborn OBC, animal transport company Intradco Global, and flight operations provider Wings 24.
The group was further enhanced earlier this year with the acquisition of a majority shareholding in Magma Aviation – a specialist air cargo company operationally managing B747-400F aircraft.
He describes himself as someone who is constantly moving, always looking for the next opportunity and developing new ideas. He added: “Diversity and innovation are crucial to the survival of a business - standing still has certainly never been an option.”
Milestones and memorable movements
In his time with Chapman Freeborn, Russi recalls one particularly special flight that has remained a fond memory to this day:
“In the early 1990’s we received a request from a relief agency to deliver aid goods via Djibouti to Somaliland. I personally accompanied this relief flight which was operated on a Hercules aircraft. When we landed on rough terrain in the middle of the desert, we were welcomed by hundreds of adults and children who unloaded the cargo straight from the aircraft. They organised a human chain and transported the urgently needed goods to its destination. This was a very moving moment for me, to experience their fate that closely and on to be part of the project and witness their joy and gratefulness.”
Today, Russi is still actively involved in the day-to-day business of the group and remains passionate about the industry and its people.
Since 2015 he has also served on the TIACA board of directors and helps the association to promote the interests of the air cargo sector as a whole.
He said: “I learned a very important lesson from my former supporter Bob Thomson that I internalised as a formula for success: ‘If you don’t know how to give you cannot take’. Business is give and take and based on a partnership with all employees, business partners and clients. This is key for a long-term successful cooperation.”