Lusaka charter

The charter challenge: IAG Cargo’s solution to the Covid supply chain crisis

One of the most critical days in 2020 was March 11th, the day the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic. The effects reverberated around the globe – ports and airports closed, manufacturing hubs ground to a halt and manpower shortages caused disruption to all manner of industries. At this critical time, IAG Cargo was quick to offer a dedicated charter service for customers that needed to keep their goods on the move. Partnerships and Interline Manager Toby Hillier explains how IAG Cargo stood up a charter service after a six-year gap, the challenges it presented and why he thinks this segment of the business is here to stay.

How did IAG Cargo come to the decision to start chartering aircraft?

Tobier Hillier, Partnerships and Interline Manager
Toby Hillier, Partnerships and Interline Manager

The charter service was born out of the fact that much of the passenger side of the business had to pause from flying. Overnight, our cargo capacity vanished, so we quickly established solutions to meet demand. We split into two teams, with one team fleshing out what our network should look like on a scheduled basis for cargo-only and another working on ad hoc demands for large consignments that still needed to move.

What commodities has IAG Cargo moved and to which destinations?

Commodities have been varied, but at the start of the pandemic we were principally moving PPE. We responded to a reduced network with charter flights. In the first week of implementing this service we moved large Perishables shipments to the US, which we’d ordinarily move on our scheduled services. Once April kicked in, we started moving significant PPE shipments between Beijing and Shanghai into Heathrow, Beijing and Dublin, and Beijing and Madrid.

What notable shipments have you seen on IAG Cargo’s charters? 

We’ve carried a lot of automotive parts between the EU, Southeast Asia and the Americas. We’ve also carried Covid test kits into Europe, machinery equipment into the United Kingdom, chemicals to the Caribbean, milk powder to Peru. There’s been mining equipment into the United States, perishables into Dubai, and a lot of e-commerce around the world.

What infrastructure did you need to manage the service?

Within the charter team, we handle external requests from the charter broker community, as well as requests coming into our internal commercial teams. The charter broker community was brand new to us – IAG Cargo hadn’t worked with charter brokers since British Airways retired their freighter fleet in 2014, so it had been a significant gap in time. The set-up has evolved over the course of the pandemic. We facilitate our customer’s requests depending on their needs with our operating companies – Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia – as well as working with our IAG Cargo operational colleagues to set-up the handling for the flight.

How busy has the service been?

Incredibly, we’ve operated over 1,000 flights. During our busiest times, we were operating more than 60 charters per week. 

How long do you foresee IAG Cargo chartering aircraft? 

Charter demand is still there, we’re taking regular requests. We have built relationships with new customers as a result of this situation and customers have said that they will continue to come to us because of the flexibility that we offer. The fact that we’ve already operated over 1,000 charters shows it is now an integral part of the business and we’ll certainly continue to respond to requests that come in for this.

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