Covid-19 transformed the way agents handled cargo at IAG Cargo’s Heathrow hub. We speak to Senior Cargo Duty Manager Andrew Gipps about managing a round-the-clock operation, and how crucial his teams’ agility was, and continues to be, during the peak of the pandemic.
Could you tell us about your career background?
I started my career at a leisure company in Berkshire, working across bowling alleys, go-karting tracks, gyms, swimming pools and sports clubs. I had always wanted a career in aviation, and I joined in February 2016 as a cargo agent. From there, I became a Team Leader, Trainer, Operations Manager and now most recently a Senior Cargo Duty Manager. As an SCDM, my role is to drive, monitor and communicate the overall performance of the London Heathrow operation, whether that be “flown as booked” (FAB), landside car park performance for the trucks or advising on operational process or procedure.
What does a typical day on the job look like?
My primary objective is to oversee departments working together, with the ultimate goal of moving cargo on and off of aircraft for our customers. Each department has its own set of priorities and performance metrics for which they are accountable, so I take a high-level view to maximise the capability and to set it up for success, whilst taking into account the product priority level and business impact. I also work with a team of flight planners, who are responsible for putting together all of the pieces of the cargo puzzle, from preparation, right up to load control for aircraft trimming and fuelling.
How has Covid impacted the business’ operations?
The pandemic has transformed the profile of our work and what a normal day looks like. The types of cargo we handle have changed and the way we handle shipments has adapted rapidly. Last year, we managed our first ever cabin-loaded shipment of mail, which required mail arriving in sacks that cannot weigh over 10kg so that we can fit them in the cabin hold. We then transferred them to an external handling facility where they were sorted by size and suitability. We needed to know exactly where each piece of mail should be stored on the aircraft, whether it should be built into a ULD and stored in the hold, sent into the bulk hold at the rear of the aircraft, or loaded into the hand baggage compartments. It was a total reconfiguration of our existing procedure and a tremendous achievement that speaks to the team’s capabilities.
We replicated this work when the economy seats of one of our B777-200s were removed to make room for PPE shipments bound for NHS front line workers. We modified a series of aircraft steps, adding a cargo chute to reduce the time and cost spent offloading PPE from the aircraft and onto a freight vehicle.
At the end of the summer, one of our warehouses dealt with vast amounts of tonnes of PPE and COVID-19 test kits arriving from Beijing and Shanghai. Once our newly-instated freighters started operating, staff volunteered to make the 30-plus hour round-trip to China and back to collect this cargo and ensure it was restrained on the return flight. The teams’ dedication to the cause was exceptional. It has been very rewarding to know that what we are doing has made such a huge impact.
By having efficient processes in place, our teams keep the supply chain moving so our customers can transport goods easily and quickly instead of sending them via sea or rail.
How have your teams come together during the pandemic?
All of the teams have coped well with the pandemic, implementing Covid-safe measures, creating posters and sourcing cleaning materials. The staff arranged a clap for the NHS, using forklifts and ULDs to spell out ‘4 you NHS’ using wooden spreader boards. They have had to cope with a high volume of loose cargo needing to be handled and have continually risen to the challenge.