From becoming a major hub supporting ‘Lifeline Udan’ flights and supplying medical cargo and essential commodities even at the remotest locations, Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) remained committed to its services during this difficult hour. Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO, DIAL in an exclusive interview with Ritika Arora Bhola talks about safety arrangements and other strategies adopted to keep cargo moving through the airport in times of this pandemic disaster, and rising need for the air cargo industry to adopt digital technologies to alleviate current pain points.

Delhi airport resumed operations recently after remaining suspended for about two months following the nationwide lockdown imposed to constrain the COVID-19 pandemic. Please elaborate on the safety arrangements made to ‘Move Cargo’ in times of this crisis.

Post-announcement of the nationwide lockdown effective midnight of March 25, 2020, the airport’s passenger services remained suspended. However, the cargo services at the airport were operational as per the guidelines issued by the Government of India.

To remained committed and ensure uninterrupted air cargo operations at the airport during these testing times, the airport has implemented several measures to keep the cargo facilities safe and secured. Some of the major initiatives undertaken include:

  • Compulsory thermal checks of all persons entering the cargo complex.
  • Provision of hand sanitisers for all the employees and visitors.
  • Compulsory use of face masks while entering the cargo terminals.
  • Social distancing measures across the cargo handling area/warehouse – export, import and domestic by making sign boxes and ensuring compliances.
  • Fumigation/disinfecting of entire cargo complex, gates, warehouses, offices at intervals.
  • Regular disinfection of all vehicles/machinery at cargo terminals.
  • Strict instruction to employees to download ‘ArogyaSetu’ application in their mobiles.

Amid lockdown, the Ministry of Civil Aviation launched ‘Lifeline Udan’ flights to ensure a steady supply of medical cargo even at the remotest locations. Kindly elaborate on the strategies taken to ensure safety and speedy transportation.

During the COVID-19-led lockdown period, Delhi Airport has been actively managing domestic and international cargo operations and handled all types of cargo, primarily essential medical commodities, pharmaceuticals and other critical goods.

The Airport recorded 1449 freighter movements in the month of May 2020, which is the highest ever witnessed. This was possible only with the collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders working together. The corona warriors at Delhi Airport are tirelessly working round the clock 24×7 ensuring continuous efficient passenger and cargo operations.

Delhi Airport has been designated as the ‘major hub’ by the Ministry of Civil Aviation under the ‘Lifeline Udan’ initiative for handling and facilitating the distribution of medical essentials cargo in several cities and far off regions. A dedicated warehouse facility of 3,800 sq mt was created within a record 7 days to handle these imported medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) kits extending full support and commitment to the nation. So far, over 1200 metric tonnes cargo comprising more than 2.5 million medical PPE kits have been handled from this facility.

The airport is currently handling approximately 30 cargo freighter flights a day which includes non-scheduled operations. These freighters also bring in essential commodities and medical cargo from places such as Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Incheon, etc.

Will the future of the air cargo industry be different as a result of this pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions imposed at both the national and global level has undoubtedly impacted the overall air cargo business and supply chain. These restrictions and challenges have flagged the need to re-evaluate risk management strategies of the overall air cargo supply chain. It has also been observed that beyond commercial shipments, globally, airfreight carriers including the private and group charters have expanded to offer relief shipments and time-sensitive freighter services during this crisis. More and more airlines are now relying on cargo freighters to ferry import/export cargo.

Customers across the global consumer market, now seeking to limit their exposure to the coronavirus, have decreased their in-store visits and hands-on shopping experiences, and are moving to online and e-commerce shopping and delivery services to supply their essential needs – of pharmacy, food, and other basic or urgent supplies. Other industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare will also look to leverage alternate modes of transportation and logistics supply chain arrangements.

Further, organisations looking to procure cargo freight services will have more choice for 24/7 logistics solutions to increase their reach and number of delivery destinations.

What significant initiatives did you adopt to support air cargo operations at the airport during this crisis?

The difficult times have brought in opportunities for innovation and new ways of working worldwide. In order to carry out cargo handling operations seamlessly and efficiently during the period of restrictions, Delhi Airport adopted several innovative measures.

Initiatives like the use of export ULD storage in the warehouse for temporary holding of import cargo with support from Customs and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), a dedicated facility for handling and processing of essential medical supplies and also for transhipment have been implemented at Delhi Airport Cargo to ensure the least impact to air cargo operations. More initiatives are being undertaken to further reduce manual interventions.

Now that certain relaxations have been given, what can the Indian government do to facilitate the smoother flow of cargo amid this crisis? Any suggestions?

Given the significance of the air cargo industry for movement of time-sensitive cargo during the ongoing crisis, it remained a key focus of the government. Cargo aircrafts remained in operations throughout, so were the airport cargo terminals.

During this period, the government has been very proactive and supportive to ensure seamless cargo movement for the smooth functioning of the air cargo supply chain. As the relaxations are further enhanced in the coming period especially with respect to passenger aircraft movements, opening up of manufacturing industries, cross-border movements, etc. the air cargo volumes are also slated to move up towards normalcy in a phased manner.

100 per cent digitalisation of cargo operations is the need of the hour. Do you agree?

Delhi airport has remained focussed towards digitalisation and implemented several technology initiatives for cargo operations such as cargo community system for exchange of information, e-AWB 360 programme, 100 per cent paperless compliant operations, RFID-based truck slot management system, etc. These measures have proved to be extremely beneficial to the entire trade and it has significantly improved the overall efficiency of cargo operations at the airport.

The ongoing pandemic has made all the stakeholders of the air cargo supply chain more receptive to digitalisation needs and it is observed that more and more interventions are being taken up by various stakeholders in the air cargo supply chain to adapt to the changing mode of logistics. With the essential need for social distancing measures, workplace safety and contactless transactions, etc. it has become very crucial to adapt greater digitalisation for continuous, smooth and efficient business operations. Not to question, 100 per cent digitalisation in cargo operations is the need of the hour.


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