India is a very important trading partner; Mumbai and Chennai are among the top 25 import and export markets for DFW, says John Ackerman, Executive Vice President- Global Strategy and Development at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport. In an exclusive interview with Ritika Arora Bhola, the expert informs that India is an important investment destination and that the airport always encourages airlines to operate more service to India. He also speaks about how the airport is elevating the customer experience with modernised facilities and updated amenities. Edited Excerpts.
DFW International Airport has reportedly been the world’s busiest airport in April-May, 2020. Please elaborate on the cargo operations at the airport in terms of cargo handling, loading/unloading of cargo, supply chain operations and scheduled cargo freighters.
DFW has seen a significant number of passenger aircraft operating as cargo freighters. We have been able to make use of our hard stand area andpassenger gatesto deliver critical cargo during this period. Most of our freighter schedules have remained as planned and we are seeing very good load factors for both imports and exports.The airlines and ground handlers have implemented social distancing practices for employees and drivers picking up and dropping off cargo to the warehouses, as well as enhanced sanitization of public areas.
Kindly throw light on the categories of cargo that have been moved from the airport since COVID-19 has hit the industry.
We have seen large quantities of PPEs, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals coming through DFW Airport. Besides, there has been an uptick in electronics and telecommunications equipment that supports people working from home. We have also seen an increase in outbound mail to US military personnel stationed abroad.
Tell us about the superior infrastructure at the airport for efficient supply chain operations.
DFW Airport has modern, efficient, high-throughput cargo facilities with cargo ramps capable of supporting multiple Group 6 freighter operations 24-hours a day. DFW also has a state-of-the-art perishable and pharma facility to support handling of large quantities of temperature controlled commodities. In addition, DFW Airport boasts more than five million square feet of warehouse space to support freight forwarder and e-commerce operations.
What kind of strategies DFW Airport adopted for smooth and safe movement of cargo at the airport, in the last few months.
As an airport, we have monitored changing guidelines from government authorities. We have implemented best practices as they have evolved, including use of face coverings.
Our airlines and ground handling partners have implemented social distancing practices in the airport cargo facilities and warehouses, and also carrying out enhanced sanitisation of public areas.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a ban was imposed on the national and international movement of cargo. Please share with us the challenges that DFW Airport faced during this crisis and how did you cope up with it?
We saw changing regulations with regard to exports of PPEs. The DFW Airline Relations team implemented a weekly call with our airline and ground handling partners to stay abreast of rapidly changing regulations and operational conditions. On these calls, we have representation from our airfield operations, Department of Public Safety, and US Customs and Border Protection to update our partners regarding changing policies and operational procedures.
All this worked well for us to clarify any questions and communicate changes quickly.
Does DFW Airport follow an effective risk management policy in times of crisis like these?
It’s our commitment to work together on the path forward. We have been working closely with all the teams deployed across the airport to ensure DFW Airport is safe, secure, and ready for all our customers and employees.
Tell us about the trade activities with India. What are the major items currently transported to and from India?
India is a very important trading partner for DFW along with the economies in our catchment area. Mumbai and Chennai are among the top 25 import and export markets for DFW. Delhi falls just outside the top 25.
Pharma is a big piece of that traffic, as well as raw materials and manufactured goods. We feel the investment in our cool chain facility will allow us to grow the pharma business overall at DFW, added that India will be a key component of that growth.
How do you look at India as an investment destination? Any plans for future trade with India?
India is a strategic market for us and we are always looking for ways to encourage airlines to operate more service to India. We will continue to focus on those opportunities.
According to you, how is the air cargo industry reacting and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and DFW’s effort to boost the same?
The air cargo industry has indeed played a vital role during this crisis. The entire industry helped bring forth DFW Airport’s importance in the supply chain when critical supplies need to move around the world quickly. The passenger carriers came to the table with creative solutions to help ease the burden on the strained freighter system and keep the world supplied with PPEs and pharmaceuticals. We are proud that DFW was a hub for some of these activities.
How are you ensuring safety and security of cargo as well as staff, considering DFW Airport is always a busy super hub for both passenger and cargo?
Safety and security of staff and customers is always a top priority for us. Even during normal days, our Risk Management team keeps on constantly evaluating the various policies and procedures.
During this ongoing crisis, they continue to work closely with government authorities to ensure we follow the best practices and quickly adapt to the changing regulations. Social distancing, sanitisation, and minimising exposure between crews and ground staff are at the forefront of this.
Any new facilities coming up?
We are in process of updating our DFW Cargo Master Plan that will provide for a variety of long-term updates to our facilities. The goal is to ensure and better fund future growth.