Air France KLM Martinair Cargo’s management is convinced that a further roll-out of its digitization program on the operational side will have a significant impact on product
Recent ground handling congestion and Covid-triggered staff shortages were a challenge for the freight unit’s quality level, says Adriaan den Heijer (AdH), Executive Vice-President Air France-KLM Cargo and Managing Director of Martinair Holland N.V.
“The congestion specifically occurred during one weekend due to a combination of denser traffic, the available infrastructure and staff shortages, the latter a problem a lot of airports have
to face. We acted and reacted quite swiftly, in collaboration with the entire community (Air Cargo Netherlands), Schiphol Airport and the ground handlers.
Of course, this always has an effect on quality, but is reviewable, and you mustn’t forget that the quality of logistics has been under a lot of pressure for some time worldwide, especially in merchant shipping. We look at our quality figures every day.
We managed to anticipate staff shortages due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has called for a lot of attention and creativity within our teams. Even then, we have been able to reasonably uphold our quality, but our ambition remains to improve it.”
CFG: Will further digitization be a means to support that ambition?
AdH: “We have already improved our commercial platform, myCargo, which is an incubator for a whole range of digital developments. We want to copy-paste this to Operations. That will prove to be a launching pad to quality improvement, offering more stability and reliability to the customer.
We are also working with IATA to take these processes in the right direction of further standardization through API’s (Application Programming Interface) to connect more systems and platforms with one another and enhance transparency.
Within our own organization, we want every transaction to be a collaboration between our own expertise and the human touch. The customer must always be given the opportunity to talk to somebody.”
CFG: Does your digitization program include the use of virtual reality (VR) for training purposes?
AdH: “For training, we rather use Artificial Intelligence for the analysis of role playing. The use of VR is more common in our Regional Jet Center - an independent part of Martinair and the leading MRO for Embraer aircraft in Europe - and we have experimented with VR for loading and pallet building. But, to date, these tools do not match the day-to-day ‘rough’ operation, which is far more complicated. In cargo warehouses activities are very dynamic.”
Combis out, A350Fs in
Since its fleet overhaul in 2015, Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo still operates 6 freighters, 3 B747-400ERFs and 1 B747-400BCF in Amsterdam, and 2 B777-200Fs based in Paris. During their planned phase-out, KLM’s famous Combis were scrapped from the retirement list and reactivated in April 2020 as ‘Combi-Preighters’ for Covid-19-related operations (the China airbridge), operating twice-weekly flights to Beijing and three return trips to Shanghai. The last Combi left Amsterdam on 15 March 2021, to be stored in Teruel, Spain, ending the chapter of this iconic aircraft for good.
However, the Franco-Dutch carrier took a U-turn in its fleet policy in mid-December when AF-KL-MP Cargo committed to purchasing 4 A350F and signing options for an additional 4 units. Obviously, the management has learned its lesson from Covid-19 by acknowledging that increased capacity demand cannot be satisfied without freighter aircraft as repeatedly trumpeted before. This even more so since the availability of lower deck capacity is still insufficient due to the slow recovery of passenger traffic.
CFG: In view of the ongoing gap between demand and capacity does AFKLMP Cargo not regret the decision to downsize its freighter fleet?
AdH: "We don’t, and the recent events have taught us that it can be quite efficient to deploy belly capacity for cargo-only operations. For medical transport especially, Air France and KLM together flew over 10,000 cargo-only operations between March 2020 and March 2021.
This is due to having a lot of B777-300’s in the AF-KLM fleet, as well as KLM’s B787’s and the Air France A350’s. This is a good fleet for cargo-only operations. With the B777’s, we were able to fly nearly 70 tons in passenger configuration."
Sticking to the mixed model
CFG: Even then, would you consider acquiring new or P2F converted aircraft, or do you stick to belly capacity primarily?
AdH: “We prefer to stick to the mixed model of full freighters and a cargo-friendly passenger fleet, supported by a continuous optimization of the capacity. The freighters are deployed on the really important cargo routes: flowers, fruits and vegetables for Amsterdam and Paris, specific manufacturing flows ex Germany, high tech, fashion-related products via Paris and Amsterdam.
This model is based on different reasons: accessibility to the natural markets we want to serve with a large capacity offer; destinations that are inadequately serviced by belly capacity and flying to markets that are not served by passenger aircraft, but which we would like to serve from the cargo point of view.
Going for more freighters is a long-term strategy. We are a full freighter/belly cargo carrier and on the basis of this concept we want to decide what suits this model best. We may consider some fine-tuning at a certain moment and consider if we might need additional freighter capacity when necessary to support the network better.”
CFG: These aircraft are older, less sustainable. Do you never think about replacing them with more fuel-efficient and environment friendly aircraft?
AdH: “For the longer term (5-10 years), we are constantly exploring what aircraft we may need both on the passenger and the freighter side. On the passenger side, we have moved to a significant more sustainable footprint due to the fleet renewal program which will succeed in the next years. Also, for the freighters, we will make sensible considerations for the future to move towards a more sustainable and efficient mix belly / freighter platform.”
Marcel Schoeters in Amsterdam
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