Finnair specialises in passenger and cargo traffic between Asia and Europe, and last year the network airline’s cargo revenue was up by as much as 88.3 percent year on year. In December it had a record month in terms of cargo revenue. Payload Asia talks to Fredrik Wildtgrube, Finnair’s cargo head, to see how business is doing amidst supply chain disruptions, digital transformation and everything in between.
Can you give us an overview of your network? What makes this route between Europe and North Asia important?
Finnair specialises in connecting Asia and Europe via the short, fuel-efficient northern route. We currently operate to around 70 destinations, and our long-haul passenger routes for the winter season are from Helsinki to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Delhi, Bangkok, Phuket, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami; and from Stockholm Arlanda to Bangkok, Phuket, New York and Los Angeles. In summer 2022, we intend to serve nearly 100 destinations, including 20 long-haul routes. For the cargo side, the most important new route launches are Dallas and Seattle.
How has the pandemic changed the influence of cargo towards the airline’s overall direction in the near term and long haul?
Cargo’s role in Finnair revenue has increased considerably, as passenger traffic has been limited by travel restrictions. When passenger flights were brought to a halt in spring 2020, we immediately ramped up cargo-only flights to serve our cargo customers’ needs.
On the cargo side, I have seen a lot of significant development, both internally and within the entire logistics and transportation industry, as people, partners and businesses have come together to support shippers and consignees in finding solutions in their logistics environment. This has manifested as great team performance, amazing value-chain cooperation and fantastic resilience from all parties. I hope to see such good collaboration continue in the future.
What have been the challenges in your operations during peak season, if any? How were you able to ensure that space and containers were available as needed?
The biggest challenges during the peak season relate to the same difficulties that have also been seen in passenger side operations, namely the difficulty to estimate how different restrictions change on a weekly basis. Additionally, resourcing has been challenging at times due to increased sick leave absences both in our own operations and with our partners in various destinations around the world. We have focused on tackling such challenges to ensure that we have the capacity available to fulfil our commitments and to deliver the promise we make to our customers.
After recently launching your own online booking system, what are your thoughts on digitisation? Where else in the supply chain do we need more automation to move things faster?
Digitalization has in many circumstances been perceived as an efficiency enhancer, which it correctly is. Providing more accurate information between the parties within the transport chain, bringing accuracy and speed to operations planning and transmitting relevant and current information to customers are all areas where digitalization and automation can contribute to an improved customer experience throughout the value and supply chain. Digitalization has not perhaps yet been discussed as a sustainability topic, and now I’m not referring to the removal of paperwork (i.e. physical AWBs and other documents) from the supply chain, even if that is important too. I’m turning my attention to collaboration between the parties across the value chain and the avoidance of supply chain disruption as well as unwise usage of resources. Unused inventory of supplies, in any regard, is a waste element that impacts the productivity of any company, the same goes for aircraft capacity when unused.
E-mails and phone calls are simply too slow and only provide information point-to-point. Air cargo is an ultra-dynamic industry with changes occurring within the booking window, which puts stakeholders across the value chain in a challenging situation. Digital cooperation will allow more information to move faster to the right decision-makers, allowing better value creation and leaving less emphasis on guesswork and forecasting.
Digital tools will enable improved communication capabilities and, rightly used, they create benefits for the business and the environment around us.
Thinking about cargo operations, digitalization is vital for the whole industry. The requirements from different authorities are constantly getting stricter and the increased need for automized data sharing is getting higher. Our customers and our stakeholders need more transparent, visible and more detailed information of shipment data, and the only way to offer this is by going further with digitalization. The IATA ONE Record initiative is a good example on how our industry is answering to the demand and Finnair has been at the forefront in pushing ONE Record development forward.
Where are you seeing the demand for air freight charters or cargo-only flights?
Current travel restrictions in most Asian countries and challenges with sea freight continuing, suggest a continued demand for air cargo. Finnair Cargo is aiming to support with transport solutions so that customers can meet the global supply chain challenges, may the solutions be with scheduled passenger flights or cargo-only.
What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve transported over the last 23 months?
I would not call it outrageous but perhaps one traditionally uncommon type of cargo we spotted recently was breakfast cereals.