Rajesh Menon, Cathay Pacific regional head of cargo, South Asia, Middle East and Africa spoke to ACW about the airlines pharma operations.
ACW: Can you tell me a bit about Cathay Pacific’s ‘Vaccine Solution’ and how this promotes effective and efficient transportation?
Rajesh Menon: Cathay Pacific Cargo has been a pioneer when transporting pharmaceutical products. Over the years, we have built on our pharmaceutical expertise and handling capabilities to develop a dedicated Vaccine Solution that caters to fast and effective distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the globe.
Coupled with our extensive network and fleet of freighters, we have formulated a specialised solution that brings together two of our existing cargo products – PharmaLIFT and PriorityLIFT. Both these products have formed our dedicated vaccine taskforce allowing us to carry and handle vaccine shipments to countries such as Mexico, Malaysia and Indonesia, in the recent past.
We understand the unique specifications for each vaccine and continue to provide our partners with tailored-made solutions that include the recently rolled out Ultra Track- a next-generation track-and-trace system, enabling our teams and forwarders to monitor the condition of the vaccine shipments in real time. The service offered is free of charge for any COVID-19 vaccine shipments. To further ensure the necessary requirements of the vaccines are fulfilled, we have also established a 24/7 Operations Control Centre in Hong Kong.
Additionally, Cathay Pacific Cargo along with our partners Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) Cathay Pacific Services Limited (CPSL) and Hong Kong Airport Services (HAS) are all CEIV certified. Furthermore, our capabilities have also been and recognised by UNICEF’s Humanitarian Air Freight Initiative, thereby boosting confidence amongst the freighter community in choosing us for their vaccine shipments.
ACW: Cathay Pacific reported cargo capacity dropped 25% in March as a result of crew quarantine measures. How has this affected pharma operations and vaccine transportation?
Menon: In February, the Hong Kong SAR government implemented mandatory quarantine measures for all crew when they returned to Hong Kong, resulting in a capacity contraction of our services – passenger and cargo. However, the recent announcement by the government to lift the mandatory quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated Hong Kong-based aircrew on freighters and cargo-only passenger flights has been a step in the right direction.
The recent changes have enabled us to increase our cargo operations and we will gradually restore our full freighter schedule to meet the market demand.
Throughout this period, we have continued to build on the momentum in moving vaccines both to Hong Kong and across our network. In fact, in March we successfully passed a significant milestone by transporting 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
ACW: In your opinion, how will the industry change post-COVID?
Menon: COVID-19 has definitely changed the way businesses operate around the world. The cargo industry faced tremendous challenges with limited handling support on the ground during the peak of the pandemic and constraints in cargo capacity due to the increase in demand and as well as adapting to the requirements of the freight forwarders. Despite the obstacles, the industry has played a vital role in delivering not only time-sensitive pharmaceutical products and medical equipment, but has also catered to the growing e-Commerce and perishable demand.
The pandemic has forced airlines to study and be prepared for multiple unprecedented situations not knowing the uncertainty ahead. Major players in the industry have careful implementing solutions that effectively accommodate the market demand, utilise the current cargo capacity to the maximum as well as innovate their offerings, especially when catering to the extreme temperature range of vaccines.
Cargo being one of key drivers of our business, we have been agile in responding to the market demand, by scaling up and down our schedule. Furthermore, we have fast-tracked our digitalisation projects that help minimise any contact as well as accelerate processes. We have been actively using platforms that help teams internally and externally book and handle shipments digitally, and have introduced ULD Blockchains System as well as Ultra Track in our hub, Hong Kong to further streamline business.