LATAM Cargo CEO, Andres Bianchi spoke to ACW about overcoming the adversity of the past year, vaccine transport and the value of having a plan.
Throughout the pandemic, LATAM has played an important role globally and within Latin America. First transporting PPE and medical supplies and now becoming a key player in what IATA have dubbed “the mission of a century”- vaccine transportation.
A truly South American company
“We are a truly South American company and have moved vaccines throughout the continent. From the beginning, we have made a major commitment as a company to support international and domestic vaccine logistics,” explained Bianchi.
“The first thing we did was to assemble a cross functional team of over 20 people to head the building of our CEIV pharma product as well as organising the transportation of the vaccine.
“We then went on to plan the domestic and international networks. In our domestic regions, we utilised our Solidarity Plane initiative, transporting vaccines for free. We also gave support to other companies that needed help and advice in this field.”
So far, the carrier has transported 38 million doses. Bianchi explained that Chile was very proactive in securing vaccines early on, meaning the Chilean vaccine programme is well under way.
“Chile has relied more on Sinovac so far, so we’ve been to China several times to transport vaccines. From the southern tip of Patagonia to the Easter Island we’ve carried vaccines throughout the country.”
“I’ve seen our team are very proud and engaged with their work. We call it Project Hope internally because its not only doing what you know how to do, but it’s putting it to service for the highest purpose. If we can get the vaccines out quickly, the end of the pandemic may be closer.”
Strong cargo sector
It was LATAM’s strong cargo sector that helped the carrier continue to operate when passenger flights were grounded. In the mid to second quarter of 2020, LATAM Cargo went from flying 11 freighters to flying nearly 50-60 planes for cargo, utilising their passenger fleet.
The carrier’s existing Solidarity Plane initiative demonstrated the value of having a plan for emergencies.
“Solidarity Plane initiative is aimed at supporting natural disasters. South America is prone to natural disasters and by utilising our resources we realised we could help. Last November, we landed the first freighter in San Andres to bring aid after the hurricane.
“This programme is for responding quickly to disasters, which is why it worked so well during the pandemic.
“This pandemic is probably the biggest effort undertaken by Solidarity Plane and we have also extended this to the passenger side; we were moving doctors and medical personnel for free.”
The legacy of the pandemic
Since the start of the pandemic, the aviation industry has been hit hard but within the bad there were many lessons to be learned.
“[This past year] got the industry thinking about things. Supply chains had been driven by cost and the pandemic highlighted that the sustainability and reliability of these networks need to be thoroughly considered.”
“I think going forward we will pay more attention on how to structure thing so they are more sustainable.
“Secondly, it has shown the value of airfreight as a diversification tool for airlines. Airlines that have good cargo capabilities have been able to balance the damage done from lack of passengers. At one point we were the only part of the company that was flying and that is down to the fact we have a good cargo side.
From a leadership perspective, Bianchi described two lessons he has learned this year: the value of the team and the value of having a plan.
“Our world was turned upside down and we had to put in a plan in two weeks. Having a team that is knowledgeable is imperative. At these moments you either fly or crash.
“When you go from managing 10 to 60 planes, you have to have a team you trust will make the right decision all across the network. Building and investing in your team is critical.
“We were also able to build a plan specific to the pandemic because we had an emergency plan before, in the solidarity plane. We knew what we needed to do, our capabilities, our economics and so we had some sort of idea of what was required to do the right thing.”