‘Pharma an important segment for us in India’

Hundred per cent digitalisation formed the core of Hong Kong International Airport’s (HKIA) business operations, which enabled the operator to move cargo worldwide. Wilson Kwong, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl) in a conversation with CARGOTALK shares, Integrated Hactl Control Centre, helped the airport survive and create value.

Ritika Arora Bhola

How are your business operations shaping up now in the ‘New Normal’ scenario?

COVID-19 made the Hactl operations more efficient, and ensure business continuity in extreme situations. Key measures included strengthening our IT resources, supporting WFM, while maintaining data security; digitalisation of paper-based processes to eliminate the need for physical presence, meetings and signoffs, and the opening of our new Integrated Hactl Control Centre (iHCC) to centralise management of our operations; optimize resource deployment to cope with unexpected workload peaks; and enable swift emergency responses. Although 2022 has started slowly due to world economic factors, we handled 19 per cent additional cargo in 2021 than in 2019 with a slightly reduced workforce.

How is Hactl preparing to meet the increasing demand of cargo handling and ensuring 100% capacity utilisation? Share with us growth strategies adopted by you?

Hactl’s high degree of automation, its sophisticated IATA CEIV-accredited pharma and perishable facilities, and the efficiencies delivered by iHCC combine to ensure that Hactl provided careful handling services as per demands of the pharma industry.  While capacity remains an issue on some routes, our skilled workforce is adept at utilising every pallet and container to its maximum capacity, thereby helping to ease the overall problems.

Please throw light on the latest physical and digital infrastructure at Hactl for handling variety of cargo?

Our fully automated Container Storage System (CSS) and Box Storage System (BSS), which accommodate 3,500 ULDs, and 10,000 stillages for loose cargo, forms the core of business. These are controlled by in-house-developed software and interact with our COSAC-Plus cargo management system, connected to our handling workforce via mobile devices to send instructions and receive data on the fly. COSAC-Plus also connects the Hong Kong air cargo community and customs, and customer airlines have access to real-time data and can generate reports on their business. Mobile apps enable freight agents to pre-alert the arrival of their vehicles and book handling slots. On the ramp, new paperless processes facilitate last-minute updates to manifests and load plans, ensuring cargo flies as booked and flight capacity is optimized. Everything is monitored and controlled by iHCC. Our physical resources accommodate every kind of cargo from perishables, hazardous to outsize and e-commerce.

Highlight freighter operations at Hactl and the destinations covered worldwide. How is trade activity with India stand now? What kind of cargo is moved to and from the country?

In 2021, we handled 34.5 per cent more freighters than 2019. These freighter services are both scheduled and virtually cover every key destination globally. We do not currently handle any Indian freighter operations, but would be happy to do so. Pharma traffic is a small percentage of our total volumes, but important to our customers, and we recognise India’s key role in this sector. It is an area for development for us.

Do you have plans to expand your operations in India? How do you think of the country as an investment destination?

Our current agenda is centred on growing with Hong Kong as it leverages the new capacity provided by the third runway. But we remain alert to all opportunities, and would welcome any meaningful approach from an Indian organisation, we have a lot of skill and resource to share with like-minded parties.

Please share with us contingency plans adopted to deal with future disruptions?

The iHCC is the core of our response mechanism for any future emergency such as the pandemic, but our entire operation is anyway set up for business continuity in whatever emergency may arise. This includes dual IT systems with remote data storage. Hactl is now more resilient than ever.

With passenger operational gaining momentum, do you think ‘preighters’ will survive?

Preighters were a short-term, quick fix for the distribution of urgent cargo such as PPE  during early COVID-19 days. Loading cargo in passenger cabins is slow, labour-intensive, and expensive. It will not survive unless capacity once again becomes more important than cost. Adjustments to the global aircraft fleet over the past two years (more P2F conversions, and more new-build freighters) along with the steady return of passenger services and belly hold capacity, are likely to rule out any return of this concept.

Sustainability is the only way forward for the air cargo industry. Please share initiatives taken in this regard?

Hactl’s sustainability programme—Green Terminal—aims at creating the world’s most environmentally-friendly handling operation. Our major achievements include eradicating single-use plastics, recycling wood and paper, and generating green electricity from our giant roof-top solar farm. But there are many more measures we have undertaken.

What are the key challenges you faced, while transporting perishables globally? Please share with us specialized solutions offered by Hactl for perishable transport worldwide?

Hactl has many years of experience in handling perishables and has put in place many resources and procedures long before we became accredited under IATA CEIV Fresh. The key to perishable handling is minimising the dwell time between arrival of aircraft and hand-out to customers; we achieved this by dedicated and accredited procedures, priority handling, temperature-controlled storage and working areas, and dedicated loading bays.

Any upcoming expansion plans or projects in pipeline?

We are currently implementing a new resource-tracking system for our ground support equipment fleet and will announce details in due course. We are undertaking a Knowledge Management programme, using innovative methods to capture and share the workplace expertise and know-how of senior retiring staff.