Emirates SkyCargo Business with conscience

Published: Thursday, June 6, 2019

The UAE is our home market. We’ve had strong performance across all our global trade lanes. Our strategic positioning in Dubai allows us to connect to sea freight as well through Jebel Ali Port and this aspect of air-sea connectivity has also done really well. We had a solid finish for the last year with positive growth. We have a strong offering for the other markets in the GCC region with our connectivity on flights as well as trucking. One of the main verticals is the import of perishables into markets including KSA, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman and Iran.-Nabil Sultan, Divisional Senior Vice President Emirates SkyCargo

Emirates SkyCargo moved close to 2.7 million tons of cargo in financial year 2018-2019, impacting the lives and livelihood of millions across continents in both developed and emerging markets, ensuring that they get the best value for their money in today’s challenging world beset with political, economic and environmental uncertainties.

With good cargo volumes mainly on perishables and pharmaceuticals, the Dubai-based air freight carrier grew its annual revenue during the period by 5% to AED13.1 billion (about USD3.6 billion) despite experiencing headwinds in the form of increasing fuel prices and currency exchange movements’ negative impact, shared Nabil Sultan, Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates SkyCargo.

“Despite a challenging and competitive market, Emirates SkyCargo had a strong performance in the 2018/19 Financial Year. We moved close to 2.7 million tons of cargo and positively impacted the lives of millions of people globally,” said Sultan, a US-educated Emirati who has been with the company since 1990.

This year, Sultan said Emirates SkyCargo is focusing on specialized products amid increasing demand from customers to address their specific needs.

“Our success and recognition in the industry has been the result of our continuing focus on developing and refining our specialized offerings. Customers have been demanding specialized care and handling for their shipments,” Sultan explained noting that in addition to the company’s flagship Emirates Pharma, Emirates Fresh and Emirates Wheels products, it launched Emirates AOG for the rapid transportation of aircraft components and Emirates Pets for the safe and comfortable journey

(including door to door in select markets) for pets such as domestic cats and dogs. “We will continue to focus on specialized products for 2019.”

Watching Global Trends

With geopolitical conflicts directly impacting the movement of goods, businesses across many fronts, especially those in the air freight industry which accounts for a third of global trade valued at about US$6 trillion annually according to the International Aviation Transport Authority (IATA), are closely monitoring global trends.

Emirates SkyCargo is among key players in the global air cargo industry closely watching global trends, preparing to adjust its operations for any eventualities.

“For the coming year, we are closely monitoring global trends. With the outlook of trade flows being impacted between the US, China and Europe, due to the introduction of tariffs, there is no doubt that there could be an impact on cargo volumes,” Sultan explained.

“We are also closely watching developments in the European economy with Brexit and other geop olitical considerations . However , there are always opportunities we can tap,” he added. “E Commerce continues to post double digit growth, boosting production in some markets. The emergence of new markets has also resulted in some non-traditional cargo movements. We continue to analyze these trends and will react by ensuring that our capacity is best deployed where there is demand.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to step down as Tory leader on June 7 and will subsequently serve as caretaker PM until the Tories have selected her replacement by end-July.

The UK and the UE agreed to a second delay to Brexit until October 31.

If no deal is made by then, UK’s access to the European Single Aviation Market may be in peril along with other matters connected to the transportation sector like cross-border shipping, rail, trucking and even logistics.

Analysts said upon execution of Brexit without clear aviation/ transport deals with the EU, UK-licensed airlines will lose their right to fly to and from EU and between the remaining EU member states.

The heightened trade tension between the US and China , meanwhile, continues to take its toll on import and export sales volumes between the countries with consumers directly impacted on additional tariffs imposed on traded goods.

Green perishables

In 2018, Emirates SkyCargo transported about 400,000 tons of perishables, 40 percent of which are vegetables and fruits, and 30 percent meat and seafood, with the world demanding all sorts of cuisines and ingredients sourced from all corners of the planet.

“In today’s connected world, people are becoming increasingly familiar with cuisines and ingredients from other countries and regions. This is helped by popular culture including TV shows as well as more international travel. Over the years, this familiarity has led to an increasing demand to transport food and other related perishable items across the world,” Sultan said.

“Air Cargo is able to fulfill this need because of the ability to transport goods rapidly . So fruits and vegetables, loaded after harvesting, can remain fresh even as they arrive at their destination,” he added.

Emirates SkyCargo’s wide route network spanning six continents adequately meet the global demand for food from all corners of the world.

“ The largest segment of perishables that we carry tends to be fruits and vegetables accounting for over 40% of all perishable cargo that we transport. We see large volumes of fruits and vegetables being transported from Africa (Kenya, Egypt, and South Africa), South Asia (India, Sri Lanka), South East Asia and Australia,” Sultan explained.

“Meat and seafood form about a third of the total volume of perishables transported. Major export markets for meat tend to be Australasia, South Asia and Africa and for sea food some of the major export

markets include Norway, Chile Sri Lanka and South Africa. The Middle East market is a major consumer of meat and sea food,” he added.

From Kenya in Africa and Equador in Latin America, Emirates SkyCargo, hauls tons of fresh cut flowers directly to Amsterdam, the site of the world’s largest flower auction market.

India: The Gulf’s food source

Geographically close to the Gulf, India’s rich and abundant agricultural landscape has always been a top source of food imports for many countries in the Middle East which was complemented with the presence of millions of Indian migrants in the region.

“India is an important market for Emirates SkyCargo. With more than 170 weekly flights to nine stations in the country, we facilitate an important volume of trade to and from the country including the export of pharma and perishables,” said Sultan.

Every month, the freight carrier transports between 4,000 to 5,000 tons of perishables from India to other parts of its route network. Last year, the Indian perishables it moved totaled close to 53,000.

Mangoes are among India’s top seasonal commodity while vegetables that grow all-year-round like Okra, chillies, ginger, among many others, are regularly transported to the region and elsewhere.

“Mangoes are an important seasonal commodity that we help export from India, particularly Mumbai and Ahmedabad, to the Middle East, Europe (especially UK) and the US. But other than mangoes there are important quantities of other Indian fruits and vegetables that are exported to the Middle East and other markets where there is a considerable presence of Indian diaspora. Fruits and vegetables transported include Okra, drumsticks, green chillies, gourds, ginger, mushrooms, papaya, guavas and so on,” said Sultan.

The volume of food cargo sourced from India rises depending whenever any major religious festival is observed in various communities.

“In terms of seasonality, we see a rise in exports of perishables to the Middle East during Ramadan and a spike in exports of fruits and vegetables around Indian festivals to the Middle East—especially Vishu and Onam, which are important events for expats from Kerala settled in the region,” Sultan explained.

Perishables: Our specialty

Transporting millions of kilos of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, Emirates SkyCargo is renowned for keeping them in their natural state  with sophisticated storage facilities on land and on air as well as expert handlers in the industry.

Sultan said Emirates Fresh, launched in 2017, is the company’s answer to address the requirements of their global customers in transporting fruits, vegetables and other perishable cargo.

“We have three tiers to this product offering. Emirates Fresh is the basic offering which is used for transporting perishables with a fairly high level of temperature tolerance. The Emirates Fresh Breathe product predominantly caters to delicate perishables such as cut flowers, bouquets, cut fruits and vegetables. The cargo gets temperature controlled and prioritized ground handling,” he said.

Emirates Fresh Active is the company’s dedicated product to high-value perishables like fine wines, cheese, caviar, etc.

“Emirates Fresh Active is a very specific product and meant for the crème da la crème high – end perishables such as fine wines and cheese, caviar, high end fruits and frozen goods that cannot withstand any deviation in temperature. We use temperature controlled containers to ensure that we do not compromise product integrity,” Sultan explained.

These specialized products are complemented by the company’s state-of-the-art facilities at its cargo terminals at DXB and DWC in addition to supporting products such as the White Cover range of thermal blankets and the Emirates Fresh Ventilated Cool Dolly which are important top reserving the freshness of the perishables being transported.

Global leader on pharma

A global leader in transporting pharmaceutical products across the world, Emirates SkyCargo moved over 73,000 tons of pharma across its network in 2018—reflecting a double-digit growth compared to its previous record year-on-year.

“We transport a wide range of pharmaceutical products from  generics and vaccines to oncology medication. Over the years, the sophistication of the pharma cargo we transport has increased and so has the specialisation of the services we provide,” said Sultan.

The company’s three – tiered offering for global pharma customers, Emirates Pharma, first launched in 2016, is highly regarded for its innovative solutions to preserve the medical or biosciences being transported.

“Emirates Pharma Plus is ideal for high value pharmaceuticals with a thermal cover that can withstand minor temperature fluctuations during handling and transportation and Emirates Pharma Active works best for high value pharmaceuticals that are extremely temperature and time sensitive, and need to be transported in active containers,” said Sultan.

“We continue to experience a strong double digit rate of growth in the volume of pharmaceuticals that we transport. The growth in the first four months of this year has so far been robust and we do not expect any change in the upward trend in the  volume of pharmaceuticals transported,” he added.

Emirates SkyCargo has more than 8,000 sqm of dedicated pharma handling spaces across its two cargo terminals in Dubai. Both are certified as compliant to EU GDP standards.

Additionally, the company has trucking service between Emirates SkyCentral DXB, its terminal for handling cargo from passenger aircraft and Emirates SkyCentral DWC, its terminal for handling cargo from freighter aircraft that runs 24/7.

“We have a fleet of 49 trucks and there are also 12 dedicated reefer trucks making sure that the cool
chain is not broken when the cargo is being transferred from our passenger to freighter aircraft or vice versa. We have streamlined our processes to an extent where we are
able to deliver a transit time of just 4.5 hours between the arrival of goods on freighter aircraft to their departure from passenger aircraft and the other way around,” said Sultan.

“The trucks almost act as a seamless conveyer belt in transporting pharma cargo between the two airports. In addition, we have invested in developing additional equipment and initiatives to ensure that pharmaceutical cargo is transported safely and securely through our hub and aircraft,” he added.

‘There is a strong ethical value to our business’

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this segment, Nabil Sultan, Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates SkyCargo, talks about the human side of the air cargo industry, making sure that people’s personal belongings—medications, high-value cars or art pieces, to cherished pets, among others—move without delay or damage. And ensuring that what may be left behind is taken care of. Indeed, it’s a unique business that requires skills, resources, efficient systems and a lot of ethics.

he air cargo industry is Tindeed very unique. We play an important role in the facilitation of international trade and air cargo is an important vehicle that has a direct impact on a nation’s economic development and GDP. Countries and exporters rely on us to offer them robust capacity to support their exports in a timely manner as this has a strong impact on trade and livelihoods.

By itself air cargo is fairly different from the passenger side of aviation. Whereas, customers are able to manage by themselves for processes such as transfer within the airport, boarding and so on; for air cargo you really require a seamless process in the background for the shipment to move from one end to another.

It requires close monitoring and a granular attention to detail to make sure that the cargo moves without damage or delay. Some of the cargo we transport such as perishables or temperature sensitive pharma need to be moved within a specific time frame.

Also much of the cargo that we move could hold a strong personal significance to our customers. Whether this is lifesaving medication, cherished pets such as cats or dogs, beloved possessions such as cars, personal effects or artwork there is a strong connection on a personal effect to cargo that travels on our aircraft and this means that we have to doubly vigilant that our processes are fail proof.

There is a strong ethical value to our business. And this ultimately leads me to the question of how I begin my day.

The first part of my day involves looking at what didn’t work the previous day. Were there any shipments that were left behind? What issues did we face as a team? What worked and what didn’t? Our daily operational meeting at 7.30am is a time for me to regroup with the team and to dissect the results of the previous day.

The key priority for us, of course, is to make sure that anything that went wrong, for example shipments that  missed their milestones, are immediately given attention and steps taken to rectify the status.

We look at all aspects of the process including making sure that we are transparent with our customer in communicating to them and giving a complete status report on when they can expect the shipment, the recovery and rebooking details, time of arrival at the final destination.

Ultimately customer satisfaction and customer trust is what drives our business forward and it is very important that we do not lose this. I place a high importance in reacting immediately to make sure that the customer is kept abreast of all details.

Once the key priority operational issues from the previous day have been looked into, the rest of my day is devoted to strategy and analysis. We need to monitor industry trends, analyze how well our capacity has been utilized across our global operations spanning more than 155 destinations across six continents and making decisions based on this data.

Keeping an eye to future developments is also an important part of my role, looking into how better we can serve our customers going forward.

The rest of the day is taken up by looking at our performance and market information in granular detail, understanding potential gaps or red flags and working with our diverse and talented team to ensure that we exceed customer expectations with our world class service.