Southwest Airlines has been the best positioned financially among major airlines, with less debt and more reliance on domestic flying than its rivals. But the airline still has to dig deep to ensure it has enough available to make it through the steepest drop in flying in commercial aviation history. Wally Devereaux, Managing Director- Cargo and Charters in an exclusive interview with Ritika Arora Bhola, shares how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the carrier’s business, and how they are preparing to come out of the crisis bigger and more powerful than ever.
Tell us about Southwest Airlines’ plans to resume business operations both nationally and internationally amid COVID-19.
While Southwest Airlines has reduced daily departures in the short term, the carrier has continued to operate at least a portion of its domestic flight schedule throughout the pandemic.
International flying will return as countries open their borders to international travellers. We continue to prepare for the re-launch of our international flights and are eager to start that service when possible.
What kind of impact the lockdown had on Southwest Airlines? Please throw light on the categories of cargo that have been majorly moved by airlines since COVID-19 has hit the industry.
Specific to our cargo business, we have experienced a dramatic shift in the commodities we carry with significant growth seen in e-commerce related goods and medical supplies. We’ve also seen the number of commodities decline dramatically in line with retail and restaurant closures, the cancellation of many different types of events, and even the restrictions placed on certain medical procedures. Many of these commodities are starting to return as businesses are reopening.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a ban was imposed on the national and international movement of cargo. Kindly tell us about the challenges the airline faced during this crisis despite which it maintained operations.
Much of the cargo Southwest Airlines fly moves in our US domestic network, however, all of our international service to the Caribbean and Latin America has been temporarily suspended along with interline partnerships covering the Canadian market.
We’ve also experienced a decline in imports and exports to the US. This has had an adverse effect on the business as well. But, despite these challenges, we continued to focus on areas of our business within our control including the launch of cargo services on our flights to HNL and the launch of cargo piece level scanning on and off all domestic flights.
Does Southwest Airlines follow an effective risk management policy in times of crisis like these?
Southwest Airlines utilises well-documented safety risk management processes for many different reasons including the current pandemic.
How long do you think, the impact of the coronavirus would last and by when Southwest Airlines would achieve the same capacity, load factor levels and demand as it was in 2018-2019?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, but we are encouraged by improving demand as of late and will continue to invest in our schedule as is warranted.
Any plans for expansion in the future?
As a regular course of business, we continually assess opportunities to grow our cargo business through new markets, new products, new technologies, etc. This has not changed and will continue to be our strategy going forward.