Emirates SkyCargo's Nabil Sultan sheds light on cargo airline's specialised cargo operations

AVB connects with Nabil Sultan, divisional senior vice president, Cargo, Emirates SkyCargo, who opens the bay doors on Emirates' freighter division and their specialised operations
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The whole notion of cargo movement is changing. To me, the days of moving cargo from A to B is now gone, says Sultan.
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The whole notion of cargo movement is changing. To me, the days of moving cargo from A to B is now gone, says Sultan.

Gone are the days where simple run-of-the-mill cargo transport was the standard in global air freight. The name of the game has changed or so asserts the divisional senior vice president of Cargo at Emirates SkyCargo, Nabil Sultan.

Inviting AVB to meet face-to-face at the reputed Emirates Group HQ in Al-Garhoud, Dubai, the divisional SVP highlights a growing necessity for players within the global air freight market, to shift their focus towards specialised transport for industry verticals.

“The whole notion of cargo movement is changing. To me, the days of moving cargo from A to B is now gone,” explains Sultan.

“I think it’s all about having the capability of understanding the different industries and being able to tailor make products that suit their requirement. It is going to be a more specialised business.”

In the case of Emirates SkyCargo, the cargo airline has spent the past few years developing and investing in new product and services that address the supply chain and logistics for certain industries. One such case is Emirates SkyCargo’s pharma product that has progressed significantly since its inception back in 2016.

The award-winning service, which was the recipient of the DHL Carrier Award for Reliability and Excellence at last year’s Global Life Sciences & Healthcare Conference in Singapore, primarily focuses on the transportation of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products.

We have seen roughly 20 - 38% growth in the pharmaceutical vertical alone. Today we are a major player in this specific vertical. We continue to expand our capability and we have the largest GDP-compliance hub in the world, based here in Dubai,” comments Sultan.

In the last year alone, Emirates SkyCargo introduced a plethora of enhancements to its pharma product, the first of which was centred around container technology. In an effort to expand its offerings, Emirates SkyCargo inked container rental service agreements with SkyCell and va-Q-tec. The two firms join Emirates SkyCargo’s existing portfolio that includes Envirotainer.

The addition of SkyCell introduces a range of extremely resistant containers that have the capacity to withstand environmental temperatures ranging between –35°C to +65°C. Coupled with a real-time temperature monitoring capability, the containers also feature a material capable of recharging within Emirates SkyCargo’s cool chain network and is thus ideally suited for ‘door-to-door’ exchanges within a closed supply chain.

Meanwhile, the introduction of va-Q-tainer’ containers adds an alternative offering for use in extreme ambient conditions. Available in five different sizes, the passive containers are designed to handle six temperature ranges between -70°C to +25°C.

In 2017, Emirates SkyCargo also entered into a partnership with DuPont, who has supplied the cargo airline with its White Cover Xtreme product, to help protect cargo in a variety of outdoor weather conditions.

Built upon DuPont’s Tyvek Xtreme W50 material, the triple-layered White Cover Xtreme features a reflective exterior suited to resist solar heat, while also serving as a barrier for conduction to prevent heat loss. The material is also breathable, an important feature as it enables water vapour to escape, thus preventing condensation from forming.

More recently, at the start of 2018, Emirates SkyCargo introduced a pharma corridor offering that will provide additional protection across selected stations in its network. Introduced firstly at the 11,000 square metre Emirates SkyPharma facility at Dubai International Airport, which received a revalidation of the European Union Good Distribution Practices (EU GDP) certification for pharma operations back in September 2017, pharma corridors oversees the protection of product integrity during transport.

Working closely with ground handling partners across various cities within Emirates SkyCargo’s global network, the service was devised to ensure transport of temperature sensitive pharmaceutical cargo complied with the standards set by EU GDP and the IATA Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV).

“We started to look at having a GDP-compliance origin-destination. We make sure that as soon as we take custody of the shipment from the origin that it is kept and managed through a GDP-compliant facility, and that the same thing happens on the final arrival to the destination of the shipment,” explains Sultan.

“With these capabilities, we probably have almost about a dozen origin destination cities across the world today. We offer a complete lane origin GDP-compliance, which includes the hub. It’s that sort of infrastructure and capability that we have been able to put together and that’s where we have seen tremendous growth.”

Outside of its pharma business, Emirates SkyCargo recently made headlines with the successful transport of KhalifaSat, the UAE’s first manufactured space satellite. As part of the logistics and supply chain MoU agreement signed with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) last November, Emirates SkyCargo was tapped by MBRSC to transport the satellite to Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

Shedding light on the process, the vice president explains that the precious cargo was moved via an Emirates SkyCargo truck from MBRSC’s manufacturing facility in Dubai to the Emirates SkyCentral DWC freighter cargo terminal at Dubai World Central airport. It was then loaded with specially designed loadmasters into an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777 freighter aircraft that was chartered specifically for the journey.

“We implanted our people within MRBSC to work with these guys to understand how it is that they want to move this expensive satellite. You can imagine that even small damage to a satellite could cost millions of dollars. Planning for the transportation of some of these equipment becomes almost part of the whole product,” comments Sultan.

“We’ve had some of our structural engineers working on this for the last six to eight months with MRBSC, to really understand the logistics … this has been a pride project for us.”

The satellite is currently undergoing testing in South Korea. The cargo airline is waiting on standby to assist in the satellite’s return to the UAE and is also expected to assist in the transfer of the satellite to Japan in later 2018. There it will launch and begin its operation as a remote sensing satellite providing imaging for a variety of industrial applications.

The MoU with MBRSC isn’t the only one that Emirates SkyCargo inked over 2017. Towards the close of 2017, the cargo airline signed a memorandum of understanding with Dubai CommerCity, a dedicated free zone geared towards serving e-commerce interests within the MENA region.

As per the agreement, Emirates SkyCargo will collaborate closely with Dubai CommerCity to devise solutions supporting the global e-commerce market.
E-commerce is one of the verticals that is growing exponentially. Today, we see the emergence a lot of new dot-com company companies that offer different types of products, similar to what we have with Souq.com,” explains Sultan.

“We see today a lot of e-commerce happening across the Middle East, Indian subcontinent and Africa … our network is designed to connect passengers to a lot of these destinations.

“So why not use our services to connect in a similar fashion, and be able to deliver some of these e-commerce products much faster and efficiently using our network that exists today.”

When asked whether or not the ‘last mile’ would prove to be a challenge, the vice president held a different opinion claiming it was, “no longer rocket science.”

“The challenging part is how are you able to move products with a seamless connectivity and in a safer way,” says Sultan.

“We work with our partners to find the right solutions, work with certain governments and customs authorities to be able to find or create fast-track movement for these commodities. That is somewhere where we can deliver real value,” he adds.

Looking ahead to the future, Emirates SkyCargo’s vice president holds high expectations for the Middle East, where he believes the increasing emphasis on manufacturing by local governments will lead to an increase in export movement. This is particularly the case for the UAE.

“This market has always been a trader market. It is a hub for transiting cargo, but for the last three to four years, we have started to see a change in the trend. We’ve started to export things,” beams Sultan.

“There are some very exciting projects that the government has embarked on, not just in Dubai but across the region, which look very promising and if these projects eventually flourish and come to life, which I think they will, then you will see a huge shift in the way some of these products will move. Imagine us beginning to send perishables to India.”

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