Ibrahim Burak Kurt began his career at Çelebi Aviation in 2001 as an operations agent and later got promoted to Regional Director at Çelebi Hava Servisi, Istanbul. In 2016, he was appointed as CEO of Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal Management. In a tête-à-tête with Ritika Arora Bhola, the leader talks about his journey in the industry, the company’s strategies for growth, and continuous investments in infrastructure and technology, and future expansion plans.

With 18 years of experience in the cargo and ground handling industry, how has the journey been? What major transformations have you observed in the ground handling industry in the last few years globally?

My journey in the industry has been an exciting one. I have started from scratch and learned various aspects of the industry starting from operations (both cargo and ground handling), project development, IT systems and various aspects of management including financial matters and team management. After spending so much time in the industry, aviation is now in my blood, and I feel I still have a lot more to contribute to the industry with my experience.

During the last few years, the industry has transformed towards the adaptation of more scientific approaches. The industry has adapted digitalisation at various steps. New technologies, streamlined operational processes, state-of-the-art infrastructure and enhanced usage of IT are today visible. Governments across the world have started to realise the rising importance of ground handling, and strategic investments have started to pour in thereby benefitting the industry.

Kindly elaborate on the global technical and operational strategies Çelebi is planning on bringing to the Indian market in order to make way efficient operations.

We at Çelebi aim to device a new and innovative cargo handling system in the country by capitalising on our expertise in technology and providing fast, reliable, on-demand and technologically integrated cargo and warehouse services. Our vision is to lead the cargo handling space in India by being recognised for high-quality delivery, real-time communications, and efficient customer engagement. The company has already achieved full automation and a paperless warehouse tag.

Furthermore, employee engagement and development is at the core of our operations. With an enthusiastic team, inspired by the collective ‘Çelebi spirit’, we have gained the trust of our customers in all the countries we operate in. We are planning to replicate the same model in India, to bring about a noticeable change in the cargo handling sector and create value for all stakeholders. Hence, we constantly strive to engage, encourage and empower our employees by providing a positive working environment within the company.

Tell us about the current scenario of the Indian ground handling industry, considering COVID-19 impact. Where does India stand globally?

The aviation sector is one of the worst hit sectors during the ongoing pandemic crisis. COVID-19 has impacted the cargo handling industry significantly across the world. There has been a significant reduction of cargo volumes and revenue for Çelebi Aviation across the airports that it operates. If we talk about Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal, our volumes are down significantly as compared to our last year’s volumes, which have a significant impact on our business. We do not foresee the business volumes to come back to its 2019 levels anytime soon; it may take a couple of years at least. India is recovering fast from the crisis and so is the cargo sector. During the lockdown period, we realised that cargo being an essential commodity continued to be flown in and out of the country. We may see cargo restored to 2019 levels sooner than predicted above.

Kindly comment on the investment and planning that has been put in infrastructure and technology in the last few years.

Çelebi as an organisation has always been focussed on bringing more automation to its brownfield terminal. We have made huge investment of more than INR 400 crores towards the improvement of cargo handling facilities at the terminal. Key investments areas are:

  • Facility development
  • Equipment and machinery
  • Process improvements through technology upgradation
  • Upgradation of IT infrastructure

These investments have resulted in significant improvement in customer experience and an increase in operational efficiency at the cargo terminal.

Below are some of the initiatives which highlight the groundbreaking investments we have done in our cargo terminal:

  • Installation of TLX machines with automated weight and volume scanners which are first and one-of-its kind in the country and have reduced discrepancies arising due to manual intervention and streamlined the cargo acceptance process.
  • Installation of TSA compliant Single and Dual-view X-ray machines to ensure the highest level of security in the terminal
  • Installation of TSA compliant desktop Explosive Trace Detector (ETD) for enhanced security measures
  • Installation of Elevated Transfer Vehicles (ETV) with 276 cargo ULD storage locations for efficient Storage and Retrieval of ULDs
  • HHT driven barcode-based environment for better traceability of shipments
  • Introduction of battery-operated equipment such as stackers, forklifts, reach truck to ensure an environment friendly working environment
  • Installation of elevated ULD built-up work stations for efficient ULD build-up
  • As an extension of the Centre for Perishable Cargo (CPC), we have created a state-of-the-art Pharmaceutical Logistics Centre with different temperature-controlled chambers for healthcare shipments of all possible temperature ranges.
  • To extend cool chain from warehouse to aircraft, we have brought in Cool Dollies which are refrigerated dolly on wheels and can carry one complete aircraft pallet/container upon aircraft arrival at a pre-defined temperature, adjustable to the requirements of the perishable products.

Cargo handling companies are expected to have ‘creative’ ideas to gain business. With regard to that, what will be Çelebi’s ideal strategies for consolidation in the coming years?

Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal as an organisation has always been focussed on new initiatives in terms of facility development, equipment and machinery and process improvements.

Being matured as a conventional cargo handler, Çelebi also has been focussed on developing various non-conventional products and services to facilitate the trade and gain business, such as the introduction of Cool Dollies to extend the cool chain till aircraft, the establishment of Envirotainer Stocking Station within our terminal premises, dedicated Pharma Logistics Centre for handling of pharmaceutical shipments with different temperature ranges suited to different products, establishment of a ‘Gems & Jewellery’ facility within our terminal premises for processing, examination and appraisement of export of such type of consignments, Transhipment Centre, the introduction of IATA standard barcode labels in export PTL, and Road Feeder Services (RFS) facilities to connect our terminal better with several hinterland locations and manufacturing regions.

Çelebi has always been innovative and continues to innovate further to benefit the trade-in the long run.

Going forward, we intend to create a ULD repair facility within the cargo terminal as well as introduce drones, which indicate that we are always looking forward to value-added solutions.

India is investing in large-scale infrastructure projects which could transform the country’s modal-mix from one that is now dominated by road, to one that is more balanced and flexible. Looking ahead, what trends you believe will aid to the transportation of cargo especially perishables and pharmaceutical products?

Multimodal logistics has a bright future in India. There has been significant progress in India in terms of development in logistics capacity due to the growth in trade. The key element in logistics is transportation infrastructure which connects the various activities in a supply chain. The multimodal connectivity plays an important role in moving goods seamlessly and cost-efficiently, supporting the continuous flow of operations optimally. It helps in minimising the paperwork, unnecessary movements, pilferage and damage of cargo. Goods can be timely delivered maintaining the efficiency and service quality.

We have also contributed to the same by starting RFS facilities to connect the terminal better with several hinterland locations and manufacturing regions. Currently, we have started RFS from Ludhiana, Kanpur, Indore SEZ1 & SEZ2, Noida SEZ, and Ahmedabad. In future, we are planning to connect other locations as well. Multimodal connectivity supports the timely delivery of highly sensitive products ensuring its safety and efficacy.

The transportation of perishable and pharmaceutical products also needs to be aligned with the new and emerging advanced technological processes and capabilities available in the market to strengthen the entire supply chain.

To make transport management more effective and to build intelligence into the existing transportation system, it is important to implement innovative tools such as enhanced usage of radiofrequency identification (RFID), global position systems (GPS), data loggers, etc. Advanced intelligent transportation system tools will help in real-time monitoring and establishing an efficient multimodal transportation system. Therefore, adopting global standards will help in faster processing of shipments and improving the overall supply chain integrity of temperature-sensitive products.

Kindly elaborate on the variety of cargo handled at Çelebi. How do you ensure the smooth handling of cargo especially pharmaceuticals and perishables amidst COVID-19?

We have a wide range of services ranging from general cargo handling, special cargo handling (DGR, PER, VAL, AVI, VUN, HEA, AOG, LAR, etc.), express cargo handling, and domestic cargo handling. Our terminal handles all sorts of commodities that are exported and imported via Delhi which includes all kinds of valuable/vulnerable/DG/AVI cargo, textiles, machine spares, electronic equipment, automobiles, perishable, pharmaceutical, courier, etc.

The sensitive nature of pharmaceutical and perishable products demands trained and specialised cargo handlers. We have a state-of-the-art CPC with different temperature-controlled chambers for temperature-sensitive export shipments. The CPC has a pre-cool facility, dedicated ETV, three temperature-controlled chambers from +2 to +8⁰C, +9 to +15⁰C, and +15 to +25⁰C.

As an extension of the CPC, our Pharma Logistics Centre with temperature-controlled chambers for pharmaceutical shipments has a pre-cool facility and four chambers from +15 to +25⁰C, +2 to +8⁰C, and -4 to -20⁰C. Further, to protect temperature integrity in the tarmac, the two Cool Dollies extend the cool chain to the airside. Additionally, we at Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal are always focussed on educating our staff with various training and development programmes and have sufficient staff adequately trained for handling temperature-sensitive products and shipments.

Any future expansion plans across more airports in India?

We are aggressively following up on all the tenders that have been or are yet to be floated by the government. India is one of our key focus areas and we will continue expanding our footprint in the country both in terms of ground handling business wherein we are already present at seven airports i.e. Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Cochin, Kannur, Bangalore and Hyderabad, and in cargo handling business, wherein we intend to expand our operations to multiple airports.

Also as a cargo terminal operator in Delhi, we have started looking at various non-conventional streams of business and as a result, we have rolled out various value-added products and solutions.


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