EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW

Nabil Sultan,
Divisional Senior Vice President, Cargo, Emirates SkyCargo

Cargo is seeing a new wave of technology being developed and implemented in the industry, from automation to AI, but what do you feel will have the greatest impact and why? 
 
There is no doubt that technological innovations can help the air cargo industry take the next big leap forward in terms of efficiency and service delivery. AI, Block Chain and other disruptive technologies hold a vast potential to deliver a number of benefits. However, as a first step, the air cargo industry needs to implement some kind of standardization in the way we capture and share data. As you may know, the air freight business involves multiple stakeholders- airlines, freight forwarders, shippers and government departments such as customs and department of health. Without standardization, there would be no compatibility in how data is shared between the different parties making it difficult to harness any kind of benefit. I think as an industry we first need to address the issue of standardisation and data sharing so that we can extract maximum potential from technologies such as live tracking, AI and block chain. 
 
Emirates SkyCargo has recently invested in its pharma capabilities. Why is this such a focus area for you?  
 
Investment in developing our infrastructure and capabilities to transport pharmaceuticals has been a core focus for us. The primary reason driving this has been the fact that the pharmaceuticals that we transport are directly used to cure or prevent medical conditions in patients. Even a minor slip up during transportation can lead to the integrity of the medication being compromised and that having an adverse effect on the patient’s condition. Hence we have to ensure that we transport pharmaceutical cargo under the conditions laid down by the manufacturers.
 
A first step in our journey towards building a robust offering for pharmaceuticals was to consult with our customers and to identify their requirements and pain points. This consultation led to the development of Emirates Pharma, our specialized product for the transportation of pharmaceuticals, which we launched in 2016. Since then we have been constantly refining and improving the offering based on customer feedback. 
 
To support our Emirates Pharma product, we also had to develop ‘fit for purpose’ infrastructure. In 2016, we inaugurated our purpose built facility at Dubai International Airport dedicated to the transport of pharmaceuticals. In addition to this facility, we also have dedicated space at our freighter cargo terminal at Dubai World Central airport. Emirates SkyCargo has over 8,000 square metres of dedicated pharma handling space across its two cargo terminals in Dubai. Our pharma operations at our hub, including both our terminals and our linking trucking operations, have been certified as compliant to EU GDP standards. We operate the world’s largest GDP certified multi-airport hub. 
 
We also have innovative equipment such as our White Cover thermal blankets developed in partnership with DuPont and our fleet of over 40 Emirates Pharma Cool Dollies which provide protection against temperature fluctuations when the cargo is on the ramp. We also work with all the leading international specialist container providers like Envirotainer, SkyCell, CSafe and others to offer our customers the widest range of choices for transporting their cargo. 
 
We have also developed our pharma corridors initiative which ensures that we are protecting pharmaceutical cargo not just at the hub but that we are providing enhanced protection from origin to destination. Our pharma corridors initiative covers more than 20 of our major pharma origin and destination stations around the world where we work with our ground handling partners to ensure that we maintain the same high quality of handling for pharmaceuticals.  We recently opened a purpose built facility dedicated for pharma at Chicago airport, which incidentally is one of our important stations for pharma transport. In cooperation with the ground handler we ensure that temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are also protected outside of Dubai.
 
Through the combination of all the measures listed above and with capable and experienced staff, we ensure rapid and secure transportation of pharmaceutical cargo on our flights. 
 
After the strong years of 2017 and 2018, this year has seen a relative slowdown in air cargo. What are the reasons behind this and how has Emirates SkyCargo dealt with the decrease in demand?
 
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the slowdown in the air cargo industry and we’ve seen that exports have been impacted by macroeconomic conditions and a drop in consumer confidence. We’ve seen trade disputes between the USA and China and political uncertainty around Brexit and these factors have contributed to a decline in air cargo demand this year. Major manufacturing economies such as Germany have seen a decline in export orders and this has a direct impact on the demand for airfreight.  In addition to this, the air cargo market remains extremely competitive. Unfavourable fluctuations in fuel prices and currency exchange have also had an impact on our performance. 
 
However, despite the strong headwinds, we have been able to navigate the market successfully through our key strategies. Our focus on building specialised transportation solutions for industry verticals has been important to our successful performance and it will continue to remain a priority area. Over the last 12-18 months we have started offering a number of new products including Emirates AOG, Emirates Pets, Emirates Equine, Emirates Charter, and Emirates Safe. We are also constantly refining our earlier product offerings- Emirates Pharma, Emirates Fresh and Emirates Wheels.
 
Our network and frequency is another vital factor for our success. Emirates SkyCargo operates across six continents and we have a global focus. We adapt for ups and downs in trade and economic cycles. And as and when there are shifts in production and demand we are well positioned to serve our customers through our network. 
 
Where do you see the greatest opportunity for growth for Emirates SkyCargo? Is there a geographical region or industry you are exploring? 
 
Emirates SkyCargo operates to a network of over 150 destinations across six continents. In addition to our passenger flight operations, we currently have close to 40 destinations across the globe which we serve on a scheduled basis with our freighter aircraft. Being a global carrier, we are able to continuously monitor market and demand trends across different geographies and make sure that we optimally deploy our capacity to markets where there is demand. 
 
Earlier this year we launched new passenger flights to Porto which brings us our second cargo destination in Portugal. Our network in Europe now covers over 45 destinations and we also offer trucking services for cargo from offline points making our network reach even wider. We have also announced that we will be launching flights to Mexico City via Barcelona from 9 December 2019. This will increase our footprint in the Americas especially as Latin America is also an important market for us. We are increasingly facilitating exports of perishables from the region. This includes flowers from Ecuador, salmon, seasonal cherries and berries from Chile and the like. We have been able to help exporters in Latin America reach an expanded customer base in East Asia, Middle East and Europe. 
 
Asia continues to be an important focus region, as is Africa. There is an immense economic potential which with associated development in infrastructure can be translated into real growth for air cargo in Africa. 
 
Why is Cargo Connect an important event for the whole cargo industry in the Middle East?
 
We have seen that Cargo Connect has been growing in importance since the first event that happened in 2017. The event is a good forum to meet representatives from the transport and logistics sector not just from the Middle East but also from the world. Being co-located with the Dubai Airshow this year, we believe that it will be well attended by a good cross-section of decision makers from the industry and will therefore be a great forum for us to meet both our partners and customers. 
 

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