We are optimistic that we will bounce back stronger

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With around 200 dedicated and highly motivated personnel working in shifts, GHIAL together with GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo is working round the clock in close coordination with the ground handlers, forwarders, customs house agents (CHAs), regulators, state police, and cargo trade associations to keep rolling the critical chain of essential supplies. Pradeep Panicker, the recently appointed CEO of GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd (GHIAL) in an exclusive conversation with Ritika Arora Bhola, discusses more about their expedited efforts towards maintaining all links in the airport supply chain and continued commitment to world-class cargo handling operations, ultimately shaping the growth of a future-ready super hub airport.

Kindly elaborate on the types of cargo transported to and from GHIAL and other initiatives taken to increase capacity in the last three months.

Hyderabad International Airport has been categorised as one of the six national hubs under the government’s ‘Lifeline Udan’ initiative for operating medical cargo lifelines for the nation in this hour of crisis.

During the lockdown, despite several logistical issues, our team rose to the occasion in line with the nation’s call and continued to seamlessly handle cargo operations. This included all kinds of goods including COVID-19 relief material, pharmaceuticals, engineering, IT, aerospace, perishables, and console cargo, among others.

During the period from April-June 2020, GHIAL handled around 16,000 MT of air cargo.

Now that operations have resumed, what efficient plans and strategies have you adopted to revive growth?

GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo has been working round the clock in close coordination with its stakeholders enabling the critical chain of essential supplies running intact. The team seamlessly worked with regulatory bodies to set-up the processes to ensure door-to-door movement of cargo during these uncertain times.

We created dedicated Emergency Teams to handle various needs of customers round the clock. Several ad-hoc operations of airlines were handled last minute without any hassle to the customers, thanks to our effective stakeholder management. On the business continuity and health front, safety and sanitisation have been the key focus area all these while. We continue to adhere to the strict regimen of safe work culture during COVID-19 scenario.

Elaborate on the cargo flights scheduled from the airport and the growth chart of (domestic/international) traffic. 

GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo is handling around 12 freighters weekly along with some special cargo charters, which connect Hyderabad with all major international destinations in the US, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Far East, etc. Based on the fuel requirements, the freighters also uplift fuel, for which GHIAL fuel farm is available 24×7.

Among the key scheduled freighters operating from the airport include- Cathay Pacific, Turkish, Qatar, Lufthansa, SpiceXpress (domestic and international) and Blue Dart.

In the post-lockdown scenario, GHIAL has handled several passengers to cargo aircrafts. This started with the first ever passenger aircraft of Qatar Cargo uplifting 28 MT of essential supplies from Hyderabad to Doha through aircraft belly in the first week of April 2020.

Garuda Indonesian freighter from Indonesia made a maiden landing at GHIAL on April 08 to carry some COVID-19 relief materials.

Amid the lockdown, the airport got directly connected to the African markets. Ethiopian Airlines commenced a new direct connection between Hyderabad and Ethiopia throwing open new opportunities to reach out to the markets in Africa and beyond leveraging the robust cargo network of the Ethiopian Airlines.

GHIAL also handled the first ever commercial cargo service from Russia with the landing of Aeroflot Airlines. The airport is pursuing to have a regular weekly frequency of this freighter, which if works out, will enable a direct connectivity of Hyderabad to Russia and other CIS countries who have a major demand for pharmaceuticals. The sector also has a demand for aerospace, engineering and general cargo. This freighter can open up a direct gateway to the region.

Post-lockdown, how long would you estimate it would take for our industry to get back to business as usual? What will be the growth drivers?

The MSME sector would emerge as the market growth driver, as we see it, and the steps taken by the government to boost the sector. We also feel that the export recovery will be led by pharmaceuticals, medical and diagnostic equipment, technical textiles, agriculture, processed foods, plastics, chemicals and electronics. India can become the new manufacturing hub of the future, which will step-up cargo service substantially.

The positive signs of battling the pandemic globally, across the industry and countries accounting for 85 per cent of world GDP are now past their peak of new COVID-19 cases. This in itself is a precursor to easing restrictions on aviation.

With the support and efforts of the government and all other stakeholders, we are steering through the challenging situation. We are optimistic that we will bounce back stronger.

Digitalisation is also seen as a key lever for the development of new innovative services and solutions, which will drive efficiency in the air cargo ecosystem and deliver incremental value to the end customers and we continuously work towards it. GHIAL has always been at the forefront of adopting technology and automation to handle its operations, be it passenger services or cargo.

How can the logistics ecosystem players need to gear up in supporting India’s dream of becoming a manufacturing hub?

There is a strong co-relation between growth in trade and logistics infrastructure.

In the air cargo logistics business, changing business models such as just-in-time manufacturing and global outsourcing models have contributed to the rapid growth of the sector. In this scenario, the Indian logistics sector needs to develop an efficient supply chain management integrated with robust digitalised processes. This will offer significant benefits including lower inventory and intermediary costs, and simplicity in order placement, delivery and management of suppliers and customers.

The pace of efficiency and quality improvement will consequently demand a rapid development of capabilities of LSPs. Logistics being a service oriented sector would need a significant focus on manpower skills development in tandem with the requirement posed by the dynamic logistics sector.

How do you think Indian air cargo industry is reacting and responding to the pandemic? What kind of challenges the industry is grappling with and how is it making up for the solutions?

The Indian air cargo industry has been developing out-of-the box solutions to maintain operations and support the global supply chain during the COVID situation. Amidst these challenging times, the industry rose to the occasion with a business continuity plan adapting and innovating to sustain the business. Some of the strategies/solutions implemented were:

  • A collaborative dialogue between various stakeholders of the industry to wade through the crisis.
  • Effective stakeholder and people management.
  • Leveraging technology to redefine logistics/supply chain management to ensure uninterrupted service delivery.

Any new facilities coming up…

Hyderabad air cargo is in the process of expanding and augmenting its infrastructure to cater to the demand for various commodities such as temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals, fruits and vegetables, international courier, e-commerce and live animals.

With an eye on improving aquaculture exports, the Telangana government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), an arm of the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry on July 19, 2020. Under this pact, an Aquatic Quarantine Facility will be established at GHIAL through an MPEDA society named Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture (RGCA). Under the agreement, the MPEDA will set up a multi-species aquaculture centre with funding from the state government. The facility will consist of hatcheries, nurseries and training centres for export-oriented aquaculture species.

GMR Hyderabad Aviation SEZ Limited (GHASL), a 100 per cent subsidiary of GHIAL, and airline company Spicejet has signed an agreement to build a facility for the airlines to carry out the warehousing, distribution and trading activity within the Free Trade Warehousing Zone, known as GMR Aerospace and Industrial Park. This facility will be 33,000 square feet in size initially with a potential to expand 100,000 square feet based on demand.

Further, GMR Hyderabad Aerotropolis Ltd, a subsidiary of GHIAL, and the global logistics real estate firm ESR are jointly developing a 66-acre logistics park in Hyderabad. In January, ESR and GMR have entered into definitive agreements with an equity interest of 70 per cent and 30 per cent respectively in the special purpose entity, namely GMR Logistics Park Pvt Ltd.

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