Despite current challenges, Emirates SkyCargo’s freighters and cargo-only flights to Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram continue to ensure the flow of essential commodities from across the far corners of the world to and from India, while Emirates Pharma, the carrier’s dedicated air transport solution for temperature-sensitive shipments extensively connects the country’s suppliers to the rest of the world, supporting the economy at a critical time. In an exclusive conversation, Abdulla Al-Khallafi, Cargo Manager- India & Nepal at Emirates SkyCargo informs Upamanyu Borah, how the airline hasbeen progressively introducing new routes and services to the Indian market in response to COVID-19 to facilitate supplies of goods required for combatting the current pandemic, as well as empowering several key economic sectors across global trade lanes.
What ways have you adjusted your India operations, in light of what has happened?
By the end of March, we were able to calibrate our global operations of scheduled cargo-only flights to over 30 destinations, including eight in India. Since then, we have operated scheduled freighter services to Ahmedabad, Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai, in addition to several chartered flights to ensure an adequate flow of critical supplies such as pharmaceutical products, APIs, and perishables through India.
In April, we were able to set an industry record of uplifting 66.5 tonnes of cargo, including raw materials for sanitisers and soaps, perishables, etc. on a Boeing 777-300ER flight from Mumbai, reflecting the quick and effective turn around in operations. We operated at least three record-breaking cargo-only flights using passenger aircraft out of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, all of which uplifted more than 65 tonnes. We also operated cargo in our cabins from Delhi which was one of the first flights to do so across our network.
Pharmaceuticals continue to be a focus area for us and we have facilitated the exports of critical pharmaceutical shipments from India to the rest of the world during the last few months. We continue to serve the Indian market with dedicated cargo-only flights to nine destinations, ferrying essential commodities and perishables, supporting local businesses and farming communities across the country.
What is the state of Emirates SkyCargo’s global operations after several months of the pandemic?
Starting from just over 35 destinations at the end of March, Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its network to over 100 scheduled cargo destinations across the world, until July 2020. From transporting food and medicine to materials required for manufacturing and other industries, Emirates SkyCargo is helping cities to reconnect with global supply chains as economic activities recommence.
Since air cargo is the most effective means of transport for urgently required supplies, there was a surge in demand during the early phases of COVID-19 response to transport PPE and other medical supplies from production markets to places where they were most needed. Catering to these demands, we rapidly rebuilt our cargo network using our fleet of Boeing 777 aircraft as a global conveyor belt seamlessly moving vital commodities across the world. Today, we operate over 1000 cargo flights planned every week.
The areas where technology has made an impact in the way Emirates SkyCargo operated during the pandemic?
Our continued investment in technology and cool chain solutions for the safe and secure transportation of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments proved vital during the pandemic.
Historically, pharma products were not flown through the Middle East because of summer temperatures. To overcome this, Emirates SkyCargo opened its 8,000 sq mt Dubai facility in 2016, one of the world’s largest multi-airport Good Distribution Practices (GDP) certified hubs in Dubai.
We carefully evaluated every aspect of the cool-chain and came up with technology-driven solutions to potential problems. An example is the purpose-built ‘cool dolly’ which is critical to maintaining safe pharma temperatures between aircraft and the warehouse.
What is the update on your resumption of post-crisis activities?
As a customer-centric cargo carrier, Emirates SkyCargo has innovatively adapted its cargo operations and offerings over the last few months in line with rapidly evolving market demand.
In keeping with our core value as a global facilitator of trade and commerce, we have re-grown our network to over 100 destinations with robust flight frequencies to key production and consumer markets. In May and June, Emirates SkyCargo operated over 3,800 flights per month on average, with the aircraft covering approximately 37 million kilometers, the equivalent of roughly 50 trips to the moon and back.
We continue to offer our customers an unmatched reach and connectivity for their valuable cargo and our flight milestones are the validation of our customers’ trust in our service.
Recent figures and surveys reveal a modest upturn in the air freight market by the end of 2020. What is your anticipation? How is Emirates positioning itself to live up to market expectations?
Given the volatile market conditions that continue to evolve rapidly, it is hard to predict future trends at the moment.
Although passenger operations are gradually resuming across Emirates’ network, cargo operations are being carried out on our fleet of full freighters and passenger freighter aircrafts. We will continue building on capabilities, our ‘fit for purpose’ infrastructure both at the hub and at stations across our network, as well as innovative products and equipment will help us consolidate and build on our global leadership position.
How will emerging trends, structural changes, and new markets redefine your business and allied operations?
The scenario in the global air cargo industry has been highly dynamic over the past few months. The unprecedented chain of events had us innovate critically in the way we operate cargo, such as operating cargo-only flights or removing seats in the Economy Class to transport cargo.
Special requests for cargo transportation and the urgent nature of these requests have led to a demand in charter operations. Emirates SkyCargo’s charter team is flexible and works to meet customer requirements by setting up operations within a very short time-frame. There have been many instances where we were able to deploy a freighter aircraft within 24 hours of the request coming in.