In perishable logistics by air all that matters is to keep both goods in transit and their custodians always under their cool. Enhanced cold chain solutions and improved air networks are just letting consumers enjoy the delicacies from around the world anywhere, anytime and around seasons. From farm to fork and from catch to consumption; there is a fresh new world out there.
Today many people around the world enrich their dining tables with exotic fruits, fresh vegetables, delicious seafood and exquisite flowers throughout the seasons. Thanks to an advanced air freight industry that let consumers relish global flavours in the comfort of their own homes. From seafood to flowers, sending perishable cargo around the world requires fast and reliable handling by professionals who are experienced in cold chain management. And that is where innovative logistics solutions come in to play and the carrier who has the best product and service to maintain the integrity of perishables, from farm to fork and from catch to consumption, certainly commands the lead in the air cargo industry. Transporting perishables by air is to maintain a cold chain on a plane. In perishable logistics, time is of the essence to ensure produce, flowers, fish, and other products reach their destinations while they still offer maximum appeal and shelf life. But the potential complications of shipping perishables via air are many and varied. Take for instance someone booking airfreight space for a shipment of fresh peppers on the trans-Atlantic route and eventually realising that the peppers aren't just ready for harvest. Or think of top chefs in New York and Paris cooking up new menus anticipating fresh catch of premium fish from Iceland but the shipment is sitting in the aircraft at the Keflavík International Airport, which is shut on account of severe cold wave. These are some of the typical logistical nightmares that professionals in the air freight industry deal with on a daily basis. The uncertainty inherent in grown or caught product—combined with the potential vagaries of air transport—means managing perishable logistics demands specific expertise. Both for the perishable shippers and for those in the transportation of perishables world over the biggest challenge is to maintain the cold chain. The challenge becomes even greater when the temperature maintained varies from product to product. Therefore, transporting flower is different from moving fish. Though, both perishable, each requires a different set of approach and transportation solution. “The biggest challenge we face is that most origins are not equipped with perishable centers including proper cold rooms. Therefore if we face a network disruption for whatever reason our shippers can’t store their produce in a cool environment until our next flight. In order to improve the service, we have actually started an initiative with Nigerian government to foster the development of perishable centers in order to foster export of perishables from Lagos airport,” says Loic Gindre, Subsaharan Africa Commercial Manager, Air Capacity Sales for DHL Aviation. DHL Aviation in West Africa started shipping perishables onto its network 15 years ago. Through its hub in Lagos DHL Aviation ships perishables from most Western African countries into EU but also intra Africa. “In average we ship from the area into EU via Brussels between 20 to 40 tonnes of perishables daily. Since our transfer in Lagos only takes two hours, the quality of the produce is not affected and the temperature of the goods is well maintained,” adds Gindre. “Transporting perishables is not just about protecting shelf life in terms of time span – it’s about covering all critical points in transport including limiting tarmac time, trucking time and warehouse time, and ensuring that there are minimal temperature variations at all of those critical points,” said Navot Hirschhorn, Logistics & Temperature Controlled Product Manager for CAL Cargo. CAL fully owns and operates LACHS (Liego Air Cargo Handling Services) out of its hub in Liege Airport in Belgium from its own stat-of-the-art 16,000 sq.m. warehouse. Much of the warehouse is fully equipped for perishable and temperature controlled products. All of CAL Cargo trade lines go through Liege. “The majority of perishable products are traveling between Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and Europe,” Hirschhorn added. Elaborating on the challenges Hirschhorn said the most important ones are “eliminating exposure to extreme conditions, compliance with regulatory requirements and expedited handling.” For Hellmann Perishable Logistics, the largest global perishable air freight origin, according Markus Fellmann, the company’s global vice president, is Peru with approx. 25 mio. kg by end of 2014. “Many other countries are following closely,” he added. “The industry's challenge is to have the right amount of loading equipment as well as air uplift space and reefer ocean container plug/slot positions available as needed. In general the demand outpaces the supply. Very close communication is needed between all stakeholders prior as well as during and after each high demand season,” said Fellmann. There are also other challenges on which logisticians have either no control or very little. Climatic condition is one of them. “As soon as one season is over our teams start working with our customers and partners/airlines and carrier on the upcoming season. Communication flow in regards to expected volumes, times, etc. is key to a successful season,” said Fellmann. “Due to increased technology and continuous pressure on costs — many traditional air freight commodities/shipments have transitioned to ocean freight — nevertheless we have seen continuous growth and we still expect continuous growth in air freight volumes year over year for the future. We handle planned air freight and ad hoc air freight. Depending on the customers strategy and quality of fruits — some shippers have air freight before and after the season, others are having planned programmes throughout the season/s,” explained Fellmann. According to Gindre, DHL Aviation in West Africa ships around 10,000 tonnes a year with an increase rate of about seven percent year on year. “Most of the perishables we ship from Western Africa are destined to EU and mainly Rungis (FR). The main origins are Douala (Cameroon), Cotonou (Benin), Lome (Togo), Accra (Ghana), Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire) and Dakar (Senegal),” he said. CAL Cargo has recently deployed an innovative wireless monitoring network (Antaris) for real time location and condition reporting. “We use this system for both our perishable and pharma shipments. It allows clients to monitor their shipments online since data is automatically collected from wireless censors. The system ensures product integrity and enables pro-active intervention in case of temperature variations. The sensors report on location and condition including temperature, humidity, shock, light, tilt and pressure,” said Hirschhorn. Perishables, according to Hirschhorn, are one of the specialties in nonstandard cargo. “Our company was founded exporting agricultural products (perishables) to Europe, so we have almost 40 years of experience transporting perishable products,” claimed Hirschhorn. Air cargo has long competed with ocean shipping for some perishables commodities. One common pattern is for the beginning-of-the-season harvest to ship via air so it's first to market, followed by ocean shipping as the full season gets underway. “Air freight is a strong pillar in our global perishable footprint. We are handling approximately three times the number of shipments by air versus ocean freight. However, by tonnage the ocean freight volume is much larger and equally fast growing in comparison with air,” said Fellmann. For Enno Osinga, who heads cargo at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, when it comes to perishables, the leader is the one who has the best facilities and infrastructure as per global best practices and as per the direction of the regulators. However Osinga is of the firm belief that it is the collective responsibility of every stakeholder in the industry to have the entire transit routes to be compliant with the specific requirement of each commodity transported. “For perishables it is important to have the well established infrastructure at every stage. It is no good to have the perfect facility at the destination while the perishable shipments pass through below average facilities in the rest of its transit.” Said Osinga. In May this year DHL Global Forwarding, the air and ocean freight specialist within Deutsche Post DHL, announced it has set a record number of charters in 2013 transporting perishables from South America, primarily Chile to Asia and Argentina to the US market. Beginning with the launch in 2009 of six exclusive charters from Argentina and 10 from Chile, DHL Global Forwarding’s focus has been on transporting perishables for medium-size exporters. “Despite freezing temperatures, heavy rain, hail and a gloomy forecast for the 2013 blueberry and cherry season in Argentina and Chile, charters transporting these delicate fruits proved to be exceptional,” said Roland Zach vice president of Starbroker and Head of global charters for DHL Global Forwarding. “At DHL Global Forwarding we have been working diligently with our in-house carrier StarBroker to help exporters supply an eager Asian market and fill a gap for fresh fruit during certain peak seasons.” For StarBroker, DHL Global Forwarding’s in-house air freight carrier and charter broker, this season’s record charters on their MD11F flights from Santiago, Chile to Miami, Fla. resulted in close to 30 flights, a large percentage of the carried fruits are destined to various locations in Asia. Starting in 2012, for the first time in DHL Global Forwarding’s history, flights were sent directly from Chile to South Korea and then distributed to various locations in Asia. The Chilean blueberries and cherries are meeting an increasing need for these fruits in China, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, among other markets. In the 2013 seasons close to 20 charter flights of blueberries were transported from Tucuman Airport in northern Argentina to Miami for distribution in the US. DHL Global Forwarding ships fruits and vegetables year-round from medium and large exporters in Brazil, Mexico and Central America. With its temperature-controlled, time critical and highly experienced personnel, perishables can be safely transported anywhere in the world. In August this year Emirates, a global enabler of trade and business, expanded its Scandinavian reach with the start of its daily non-stop service to Oslo. The UAE and Norway enjoy a trade relationship estimated at €245 million, and this new service is expected to further enhance economic links between the two countries. Over 100,000 tonnes of fresh Norwegian salmon are flown to a host of destinations around the world every year from the country. On Emirates flights from Oslo to Dubai and Kuala Lumpur fresh salmon is being transported in the belly hold. Live king crabs will also be shipped to Incheon, in South Korea. Emirates has had a solid presence in the Norwegian market even before the introduction of daily passenger flights. Its cargo arm has been active in salmon traffic from Norway to other Emirates destinations such as such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Amsterdam. In 2013, Emirates SkyCargo transported more than 313,000 tonnes of time and temperature sensitive goods on its freighters and in the belly hold of its passenger aircraft across its network via Dubai, underlining the quality of its Cool Chain service and role it plays in bringing much needed products to people around the world. Perishable products such as fruit, vegetables, flowers and fresh meat from Africa and chilled meat from Australia, as well as pharmaceuticals from India, and many other commodities from various countries around the world, are shipped everyday on Emirates SkyCargo, through its Cool Chain products and services, which are specifically designed to move time and temperature sensitive goods according to varying customer needs. “We take pride in providing special controlled facilities to ensure temperature-sensitive products remain at a constant cool temperature both in the air and on the ground even during the hot summer months wherever we operate. Our intricate process boosts the life of perishable commodities by preserving the cool chain throughout the journey." said Moaza Al Falahi, Emirates Vice President Cargo Product Development and Local Affairs. “Using innovative products such as active temperature controlled containers, warehouses, cool dollies and white covers, we’re at the forefront in preserving the most sensitive and highest quality of goods wherever the pickup or delivery destinations are in the world,” she added. Emirates SkyCargo’s perishable handling capacity has expanded with the recent opening of the freighter terminal at Dubai World Central’s (DWC) Al Maktoum International Airport where it has an advanced storage system and a perishable area designed to handle about 140,000 tonnes of cargo per annum. It features three large areas each with different temperature ranges between 0-25°C. Since commencement of operations at DWC, Emirates SkyCargo has transported more than 55,246 tonnes of temperature sensitive goods. In summer this year Korean Air extended one of its Seoul-Toronto all-cargo flights to Halifax once a week to load up some 40 tonnes of Canadian lobster. CAL Cargo plans to keep its new freighter operation to the Canadian east coast as a regular feature. Since April it has inserted a stop in Moncton en route from New York to Brussels for its B747 freighter. "Looking forward, we forecast significant growth in our Canada business, and we are developing the infrastructure to support future sales and business development activities in the region," said Eyal Zagagi, CEO, CAL Cargo while launching the operations. Still, perishables have come to be viewed as a promising source of income for carriers. While much of their investment in special capabilities in recent years have gone towards pharmaceuticals and life sciences, perishable foodstuffs like fish and seafood, fruit and vegetables, as well as flowers have drawn a lot of efforts to stake out expertise in this segment. Today’s consumers want access to virtually anything, anytime of the year, including an array of food items from different countries, according to the experts in the airline industry. With more food products being shipped, and often for longer distances, shippers and carriers alike are looking for ways to prevent spoilage along the way. For starters, it’s important to make sure that the product isn’t too warm or too cold. American Airlines Cargo (AA Cargo) has a solution called Expedite TC program, which is designed for passive and active temperature control monitoring during transportation. The ability to monitor and track a shipment online is one of the benefits of the Expedite TC program. AA Cargo also offers a cooling service called AA Cool Perishables, which provides pre-cooling for shipments at the Miami gateway. The longer perishable products take to be delivered, the more likely the quality will decrease, which is why perishable products should be delivered in a timely manner. It’s important to consider the shelf life of the product when choosing the shipping option. What once took a week by the sea is now taking closer to a fortnight, which might not be a good choice for your produce or your end customers. Due to the time constraints more producers are now choosing air cargo as their preferred method of shipping. According to Fellmann, Hellmann offers a product called Hellmann Smart Visibility Tool for ocean freight, which has features like real time tracking via GPS, temperature monitoring, intrusion detection, G-Force, humidity and composition of air inside the container. “Very shortly we will be launching a similar product for air,” he said adding, we are living in “exciting times!”