There is no perfect script for responding to the challenges of COVID-19, but together, the industry is getting the supplies to where they are needed. Setting a distinctive example, flydubai Cargo has been maximising its capacity by transporting goods in the cargo hold on repatriation flights as well. The carrier has so far operated 1,300 cargo flights since March 2020, carrying 7,458,117 kgs of cargo to 41 destinations including to the major points in India. Mohamed Hassan, the airline’s Vice President for Cargo Operations informs Upamanyu Borah,how they have been working closely with their strategic partners, thriving to keep the entire industry structure healthy and enabling the carrier to transport cargo seamlessly to where it is needed the most.
What are the short to medium-term prospects for flydubai considering the current market volatility due to the crisis?
There is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic on the worldwide air cargo industry is significant, but the agility we have in our business model has enabled us to cope well with the current challenges.
Following the temporarily suspension of passenger operations as part of the precautionary measures announced by the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) and the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) in the UAE, flydubai has allocated six next-generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft to operate as all-cargo flights to enable the movement of essential goods across its network and beyond.
The number of aircrafts used for our all-cargo operations were later increased to eight so as to cater to the increasing demand for moving essential goods during the pandemic. We continue to look for opportunities to further support the supply chain industry in the long run as we see restrictions being lifted around the region.
What are the current challenges involved in trade lane management? How difficult it has been to balance the trade flow and ensure full capacity on south-west routes?
Global travel restrictions put in place due to COVID-19 was not the only challenge airlines had to face. There are various other restrictions which had impacted the flow of air cargo movement including the existing structure of bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements, slot availability at certain airports, and limited capacity in the belly hold of passenger aircrafts.
flydubai was able to overcome these challenges by working closely with our stakeholders to support government requests to provide relief flights. In addition to utilising the cargo hold capacity in our passenger aircraft, we worked with the relevant authorities to increase our cargo capabilities by allowing cargo in the cabin to a number of destinations. This was done in line with the guidelines and recommendations issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Boeing, and with the approval of UAE’s aviation regulator, GCAA.
How can shippers and carriers overcome global cross-border e-commerce impediments?
Airlines need to focus on implementing fuel-efficient solutions and accommodate innovative technologies to provide cost-effective services. For logistics providers to succeed, the storage facilities need to be developed to assist the global increase in air cargo.
We are grateful to governments all over the world for taking firm actions to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
Safety remains the priority of all our operations. The measures that are put in place ensure safety standards are met at all touch points.
What is the update on your penetration in the South Asian region, especially India?
We have always been proud of our strong ties with India. We started our operations in India in 2010, and this year we celebrate a decade of our thriving partnership. We have seen a stronger flow of trade and tourism between the two countries over the past few years. India became the first source market to top two million annual visitors to Dubai.
Up until March this year, we operated 30 weekly flights from eight points in India- Ahmedabad, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Mumbai and Kozhikode, and we have also seen good demand for our cargo services. The benefit of Dubai’s aviation hub is that it improves connectivity, and with our operations from India, we have given access to 71 new trade links, providing seamless logistics services.
With the support from all stakeholders, we were able to set a new record of uplifting 20,990 kgs of cargo on our B737-800 flight from Kozhikode to Dubai. This would not have been possible without the support of our shippers, agents, handlers and the airport authorities in India.
We look forward to resuming our operations to the market as soon as the restrictions are lifted and will seek for more opportunities to strengthen the airlinks between the two countries in the future.
With flydubai extending its international cargo operations more than ever, how well are you positioned in terms of fleet and overall infrastructure?
flydubai operates a single fleet-type of more than 50 Boeing 737 aircraft. We placed one of the largest single-aisle aircraft orders in the region at the 2013 and 2017 editions of the Dubai Airshow. Last October, we rolled out our Split Scimitar Winglets programme for our next-generation aircraft to increase our cost and operational efficiency.
With the global pandemic of COVID-19, we have been able to provide further reach beyond flydubai’s network such as the cities of Coimbatore and Kolkata in India and Accra, Conakry and Niamey in Africa.
We continue to invest in growing and enhancing our cargo products, systems and handling facilities in our home base in Dubai and widen our network of air cargo and land transportation by our partners globally.
How do you prepare for a resumption of post-crisis activities despite a context of uncertainty?
Since the flight restrictions came into effect in March, flydubai’s experienced team from across the airline have been making preparations for the airline’s commercial return to service. Our teams of highly qualified and experienced engineers are working round the clock to perform the scheduled aircraft maintenance tasks to ensure all our aircrafts are maintained to the highest levels of airworthiness in preparation for return to service.
With Dubai International reopening for international traffic since July 07 and more airports around the region gradually lifting restrictions, we have relaunched our commercial passenger and cargo operations to more than 41 destinations and expect to operate to more than 60 destinations over the summer.
What lessons stakeholders should learn and exchange with each other looking at such a global pandemic disaster?
We are fortunate to be able to operate in an international hub for logistics, trade and travel such as Dubai. Navigating through a crisis like this has been less challenging because we have the right infrastructure in place.
We have already invested in leading technology and automated systems and have come together as stakeholders in the aviation industry to make sure best practices are being followed, in line with international standards.
The global air cargo industry should continue to collaborate to ensure preparedness and clear guidelines are already in place for future challenges. IATA has also been designing effective protocols to help airlines and freighters operate in a safer environment.
Which airport developments in the region have been the most influential, and how have they contributed to growth?
The Dubai aviation hub continues to set a good example when it comes to handling both passenger and cargo traffic, not only in the region but globally.
flydubai is the second largest airline operating out of Dubai International and we have been committed to opening up underserved markets that previously had no or few airlinks to the UAE.
Besides, we have helped strengthen existing ties as well, making Dubai accessible to more people and more businesses around our network and further afield due to the partnership we have with Emirates.
To what extent has digitisation made an impact in flydubai’s operations? How are you providing a critical operational insights and performance data in real-time?
One of the major benefits of digitisation was the implementation of the e-AWB system. We have become one of the top five airlines in the world who has achieved 100% electronic e-AWB for online cargo bookings and real-time tracking of shipment movements. Our current cargo system provides us with real time reports and KPIs. This has helped increase our operational efficiency and on-time performance.
We have also invested in other big data platform and reporting tools which allow us to collect data from other areas of the business quickly and provide detailed analysis for optimal decision making.