Abdulla AlKhallafi, Cargo Manager, India & Nepal, Emirates SkyCargo

Emirates SkyCargo’s specialised solutions can support Indian pharma manufacturers’ export needs”

Took the charge in February this year only, Abdulla AlKhallafi, Cargo Manager, India & Nepal, Emirates SkyCargo is quite ambitious towards commercial and operational aspects of Emirates SkyCargo in the Indian market. Starting from just over 35 destinations at end-march, Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its network to over 120 scheduled cargo destinations across the globe in July 2020 and its main focus segments are Emirates Pharma and Emirates Fresh. Abdulla, in an exclusive interview with Apace Digital Cargo, talks about the airline’s cargo operations in India, investments in cold-chain solutions, potential in pharma shipments and a lot more. 

To begin with, what is the strategy of Emirates SkyCargo for the revival from Covid-19 situation? 

The scenario in the global air cargo industry has been highly dynamic in the last few months. The unprecedented chain of events had us innovate critically in the way we operate cargo, such as operating cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft in addition to dedicated freighters and belly-hold cargo on passenger flights. Also, we modified 10 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to carry more cargo. We will continue building on our capabilities and our ‘fit for purpose’ infrastructure, both at our state-of-the-art hub in Dubai as well as at stations across our network. We complement our infrastructure and capabilities through a range of innovative cargo products, helping us consolidate and build on our global leadership position.

Please share the presence of Emirates SkyCargo in India? How is your freighter fleet size? In which cities are you operating? 

Since the end of March, we have been operating scheduled freighter services to Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram. Additionally, we operated several chartered flights to ensure an adequate flow of critical supplies such as pharmaceutical products, APIs, perishables, materials for sanitizers and soaps, etc., we operated at least three record breaking passenger freighters out of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru since April – all of which uplifted over 65 tons/flight carrying cargo in the bellyhold and in the cabin. We also operate several additional freighters to meet festive demand across our network. For example, we operated several additional cargo flights from Kerala this Onam season, carrying fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other staples to destinations in the Middle East and Europe. 

What are the expansion plans? What are your focus segments? 

Starting from just over 35 destinations at end-march, Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its network to over 120 scheduled cargo destinations across the globe in 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. 
Currently our focus is on segments such as Emirates Pharma and Emirates Fresh. Emirates SkyCargo is well positioned to transport time and temperature-sensitive pharma products and medical supplies to destinations across the world. The need for transporting urgently required food items across the world has put a focus on Emirates Fresh – a specialised suite of transportation solutions by Emirates SkyCargo which ensures that perishables reach their destinations fresh. 

How do you see the infrastructure and technology in terms of efficiency in the air cargo sector?

Over the years, the freight division of Emirates has strengthened its capabilities and has invested in state-of-the-art infrastructure for Emirates SkyCargo. Our continued investment in technology and cool chain solutions for the safe and secure transportation of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments proved to be especially 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-square-meter Dubai facility in 2016, while receiving the Good Distribution Practices (GDP) certification, making it one of the world’s largest multi-airport GDP certified hubs in Dubai. To make this possible, 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 helps maintain the temperature of temperature-sensitive products during tarmac transportation between aircraft and storage for rapid loading and unloading. 

Emirates Pharma uses dedicated cool dollies that are in line with certified and best practices, and offers critical temperature regulation of pharma products. In fact, our facility in Dubai has one of the largest fleet of cool dollies in the world, and allows us to offer the best-in-industry capabilities to our customers. Our validation has been the increasing quantities of pharma shipments that are transported by us via Dubai. 

What is the marketing strategy for Emirates SkyCargo to create value for customers? How has been the role of air cargo agents in this? 

Over the years, we have invested quite substantially in offering the best practices by developing the right products, the right infrastructure and capabilities, and training for our teams and partners. This strategy helps us ensure that cargo shipments reach the destinations safely, efficiently, and on-time. 
We also work closely with our customers, and our customer-centric policy is integral to value creation for our customers. For example, special requests for dedicated cargo transportation and the urgent nature of these requests have led to many instances when Emirates SkyCargo’s charter team were able to deploy a freighter aircraft within 24 hours of the request coming in. Our charter team is flexible and works to meet customer requirements by setting up operations within a very short time frame. 

Could you please throw some light on the multi-modal hub of the airline to be created in Dubai? How can India exporters benefit from it?

In the wake of COVID-19, Emirates SkyCargo shifted all operations to DXB. Given the reduced number of passenger flights, this made our operations more efficient and streamlined. By connecting to the logistics hub of Dubai, Indian exporters can access the hub model in Dubai which can also serve as an ideal intermediate destination to west-bound pharma cargo. The unparalleled infrastructure support and access to a greater network is a rare combination that can contribute immensely for Indian exporters. 

How do you see pharma shipments from India? What are the opportunities and challenges do you see in this segment? 

India is a major origin country for pharma products. Emirates SkyCargo’s suite of specialised solutions can support Indian pharma manufacturers’ export needs. In addition to our modern fleet of aircraft we also have GDP-certified, state-of-the-art pharma dedicated facilities at our hub in Dubai to ensure that pharma cargo is protected. The major airports in the country have also been scaling their pharma and cool chain capabilities recently, indicating steady growth for pharma cargo through India.

At last, how do you see the adoption of social media in the Indian air cargo industry? If small and medium sized logistics companies adapt social media to boost their businesses, what change will this bring to the industry? What is the role of e-commerce in transforming the air cargo sector?

The adoption of social media platforms points to the adoption of technology, which is the bigger picture here. This is in the right direction given that the pandemic has forced many businesses to completely rely on digital tools and means to communicate their operations. 
We think technology has the potential to further streamline operations, bring in transparency and improve efficiency of many processes. More than social media, it is technology on the whole which has potential to transform.