Singapore Airlines Cargo (SIA Cargo) is gradually ramping up its network to pre-Covid-19 levels but it is still some way from what it used to operate.
The airline has had to adapt operations and utilise its vast fleet to meet new demands and needs across the globe, utilising its passenger and freighter aircraft as best possible throughout the pandemic.
Singapore Airlines’ Vice President Cargo Sales and Marketing, Mohamed Rafi Mar, explains how the Cargo iQ member adapts its operations during the pandemic to meet changing demands and needs.
Please describe the journey that Singapore Airlines Cargo has been on during the Covid-19 pandemic and what have been the challenges?
It goes without saying that the past few months have seen more than their fair share of challenges. But despite the difficulties, it has been extremely heartening to see people rise to the challenge and support each other, and this has been especially true in Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Throughout that time, we remained focused on our customers, while also doing our part to keep airfreight supply lines open for essential goods by transporting medical supplies and fresh foods by air to Singapore and other parts of the world amid the Covid-19 situation.
To alleviate the cargo capacity constraints brought about by the sharp reduction in passenger flights (and hence belly hold cargo capacity), we implemented a series of initiatives which are covered below.
What actions have SIA Cargo taken operationally since the Covid-19 pandemic started in mid-March?
In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 border and travel restrictions, 96% of SIA Group passenger flights were cancelled in late March 2020. As close to 80% of our cargo was carried on belly hold of our passenger flights, there were significant cuts to overall cargo capacity.
To increase our cargo capacity, we maximised the usage of our freighter fleet and operated cargo charter flights with passenger aircraft. We also introduced a scheduled cargo-only passenger flight network to alleviate the cargo capacity constraints and supported our partners by minimising disruptions to their supply chains.
Do you have any examples of special flights and services you have operated over the last few months?
In support of the fight against Covid-19, we helped to facilitate the delivery of medical supplies, essential medical equipment and food to Singapore and around the world. These included sponsoring the airfreight of personal protective equipment and humanitarian relief supplies to various locations.
We also supported various government agencies to move critical food supplies. As part of the Australian Federal Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) programme to help provide air cargo capacity and connectivity for the Australia’s producers and exporters, we operated cargo-only passenger flights out of Adelaide, Perth and Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport in Queensland.
How have you adapted your fleet to meet changing needs and demand?
We have maximised our payload by working closely with the relevant business units to obtain regulatory approval for the carriage of cargo in the passenger cabin of passenger aircraft.
This helps us optimise the usage of cargo belly-hold space as higher-density shipments can be carried after lighter and more volumetric cargo are placed in the cabin.
Cargo capacity can potentially increase by 30%, depending on aircraft type. The first of such flights took place on 8 April 2020, from Shanghai to Singapore on a Boeing 787-10.
Has SIA Cargo operated more freighters and also operated cargo-only passenger aircraft?
As economic activity resumes globally with more countries easing their lockdown restrictions, we also expanded our cargo-only passenger flight network by adding new cities and increasing frequencies to selected cities in operation.
As of 1 July 2020, our cargo-only passenger flight network covers 39 cities with 137 weekly services. Together with our freighter network and the current passenger flight network, we currently serve 52 cities in 28 countries with more than 230 weekly services.
How proud are you at the way your staff have responded during Covid-19?
We are very proud of our staff and how they have responded as a team during this crisis. The collective teamwork helped us successfully overcome the challenges that we have faced.
What do you think will be the future new normal for aviation and air cargo post-Covid-19?
At this point, it is unclear when the airline industry will fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, and which segments or markets will first see growth. Notwithstanding, we are doing what it takes to ensure that we are ready to ramp up our services when air travel eventually recovers. And importantly, to ensure that we continue to deliver the high level of customer service that we are known for, while putting in place the necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of our passengers when they travel with us.
Our extensive global network, as well as our presence in both the full service carrier and low cost carrier segments, will also help us to flexibly deploy capacity to meet the demand from different markets when air travel returns.
On the air cargo front, we are continuing to invest in strengthening our capabilities and accelerating digitalisation to enable us to better serve our customers and tap opportunities in the post-Covid-19 world.
Has being a member of Cargo iQ helped during the pandemic?
Being a Cargo iQ member has encouraged us to continuously deliver a high-quality service to our customers despite the current challenging situation.