CargoLogicAir gets a new lease of life under Nadeem Sultan as CEO
Nadeem Sultan, the new chief executive officer of CargoLogicAir (CLA), a Volga-Dnepr Group company, speaks about the spectacular turnaround of CLA and it future plans.
Launched in 2015, CargoLogicAir is the United Kingdom’s only main-deck freighter airline. Extra ordinary market conditions forced CargoLogicAir to request for the cancellation of its Operating Licence and Air Operator Certificate in February this year. But in April the Civil Aviation Authority of United Kingdom lifted the suspension of CargologicAir’s Operating Licence and Air Operator Certificate in order to provide cargo flights using two of it Boeing 747 aircraft on contracts to provide medical supplies amid the pandemic. Since then the story has been different for CargoLogicAir. Leading the change and restructuring at CargoLogicAir is Nadeem Sultan who joined CargoLogicAir as Chief Operating Officer and Accountable Manager in January this year. He was elevated to the current role as the Chief Executive Officer of the cargo carrier after it made a spectacular turnaround in performance. Nadeem Sultan speaks to Reji John in an exclusive interview. Edited Excerpts.
What has been the brief to you when you were brought into lead CargoLogicAir (CLA) in January this year, and then when you were elevated to the current position as its chief executive?
I joined the company in January as the Chief Operating Officer. It took a couple of weeks to know the organisation and the people. Then it was really about thinking, together with the management team, on what we need to do different to reshape CLA in a way that will ensure that we've got a good solid base on which we can build as an organization.
I think people realized that 2019 was actually the worst year for the air cargo industry since 2009. I mean, it was a very dreadful year if you were in the air cargo business in general, and of course, even more challenging when you operate pure freighters. So we had a significant challenge towards the second half of 2019. Markets were contracting literally every region in the world except for Africa, reporting reduced FTKs. At the same time capacity kept on increasing, new airplanes being inducted by some of the largest international airlines. So from that perspective the supply and demand curve was moving in the wrong direction as far as air cargo carriers were concerned. So, CLA was not immune to the trend. CLA had to reassess its fleet and its strategy which led to the reduction of fleet – from four B747 to two in the beginning of January.
And then we as a team got together and started thinking about what do we do now in terms of deployment of our aircraft. Which routes and which markets? China in general is of course key for every large international cargo airline and we are no different. We got together with some of the key customers in that region to look at plans. But unfortunately as we were nearing the launch of a couple of operations the Covid pandemic and all other uncertainties became a reality. This forced us to go back to the drawing board again as an organization
So keeping in mind the challenges at that time and making a very realistic assessment of the time it was probably best to just put a temporary pause. Hence, we voluntarily went to the civil authority and requested them to suspend our operations for time being. In essence we went through internally a process of right sizing and revisiting everything that we do, revisiting literally every process. And in the second week of April, when we realised that we were fully ready, we approached the civil aviation authority. After the authority completed the due diligence we got our suspensions lifted. And from that day on, we've been operating quite intensely.
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So when did you realise that there was this opportunity? And did you, in the process, lose out almost a month of peak demand?
I think we knew that there was a demand for a UK-based main-deck freighter operator. And from that point there was never any doubt. I think, as the market changed with significant demand for PPE we realized that it is time to get back into operation as soon as possible. But I would say, even more so, it's probably one of the few times in at least my professional career where, it was beyond revenues and everything else. It was purely just about doing the right thing. Being a UK airline it was about supporting the country, getting the medical supplies into the country as soon as possible. So I think by the second half of March it was very clear that many companies and organisations within the UK were relying on CLA to quickly resume operations.
Give us a sense of the cargo operation since you got your schedule back in April?
So we have been operating since the third week of April. I would say from that up until the end of June, it was primarily PPE related flying. First and foremost we focused on assisting the UK authorities with supplying the country with all the necessary PPE equipment and then as and when we had capacity available in our fleet we helped other organisations. So, while a bulk of our flying has in that initial period been for the UK, we also operated PPE related flights into North America, the US, Canada and into European countries. It has been very diverse in terms of geographical operation since we resumed from that mid of April.
The Civil Aviation Authority of United Kingdom lifted the suspension of CargologicAir’s Operating Licence and Air Operator Certificate in April 2020
What is the future for CLA? When do you start your scheduled operations?
So, in terms of organization we have a solid team now in place. We right sized the organization for the operation that we have. And so from that perspective luckily we were able to retain most of our long serving employees. So quite happy with where we are as an organization today. In terms of the future for CLA, I think there are a couple of things which make it very promising. I would say financially, of course, as a business, you need to have a solid platform in place. And I can say we have that now in place. So that will allow us to plan for the future without having to necessarily worry about the short term. In terms of growth, I think at this point, there's just so much uncertainty within the markets which makes it very difficult for anybody in our industry to really, with a certain degree of surety, predict what's going to happen. But there are a couple of other things that we as a UK carrier also keeping in our mind, for our future.
Will you continue to fly on your very attractive trade lanes like Asia-UK and UK-North America? Are you looking at any other trade lanes which you think are attractive to CLA right now?
I think we would be very open in terms of what basically our customers need. But considering the B747 is a large freighter and you would expect the aircraft to be flying on the bulk trade lanes most of the time. And those trade lanes are Asia to Europe and Europe to the US. But I do expect us to have a certain amount of our flying to be to other regions like potentially South Africa, South America and Africa.
Does India figure in your future plans?
Definitely. Obviously India is a massive economic powerhouse and becoming one of the largest markets for both import and export. We as a UK airline has a very large Indian origin population which drives quite a bit of import demand as well from perishables to other commodities. And so definitely we will be looking at India in the future.