Fernando Terol Armas, Director of Spanish Hub and Operations, IAG Cargo

How IAG Cargo Madrid stood up to the pandemic

Two years on from the opening of the new Constant Climate Centre at IAG Cargo Madrid, we speak to Director of Spanish Hub and Operations, Fernando Terol Armas about the team’s resilience during the pandemic, and how the new facility has transformed IAG Cargo’s pharmaceutical operation.

What have been some of the most noteworthy achievements of the last 12 months?

It’s been a challenging year, especially at the start of the pandemic in mid-March last year. At that point, the Spanish government announced a state of emergency, lockdown was instated until the end of June, and there was much uncertainty, but little PPE. We very quickly managed to create a “sanitary corridor” between Spain and China with a dedicated team formed from relevant departments within IAG Cargo, and made arrangements with the Spanish Secretary of State for Finance, who was leading the medical supply to Spain, together with the organisations that represent the Spanish medical associations.

During the three months of lockdown, we operated 62 cargo-only flights for PPE. I’m so proud that I was able to be a part of this effort, because the demand for medical supplies in Spain was so high. We also completed 277 repatriation flights, helping overseas travellers get home, on which we carried 3 million kilos of essential cargo for Spain’s pandemic effort. Of the 62 cargo-only flights, we carried 1.2 million kilos of medical supplies.

What happened when the state of emergency was stood down in the summer?

IAG Cargo flights out of Madrid are mainly linked to the Iberia passenger operation, and the airbridge between the Madrid and London hubs that enables the connectivity between both Iberia and British Airways networks. We also have some short-range freighter operations connecting Madrid with the Canary Islands and central Europe. The Iberia schedules were reduced significantly during lockdown, but at the end of June, activity ramped up again and we continued transporting essential supplies, premium products and general freight. In October, Iberia converted three A330s to preighters, which operated 118 flights and carried nearly two million kilos by the end of the year. Half of these were export while the other half were import, and our volumes are continuing to ramp up. At the end of 2020, our operation was much stronger than at the start of the pandemic, and compared with the frequency of other airlines, I would say we measure on the higher end of the scale in terms of output, which is excellent given the global circumstances.

You’ve been handling vaccines at IAG Cargo’s Constant Climate Centre in Madrid, can you talk about this work?

For some vaccines, which require much cooler temperature control, there is huge emphasis on the provision of dry ice, because maintaining this is so crucial to the integrity of the vaccine’s properties. We have received vaccines from Amsterdam and Brussels, which are transported to our stations in the Canary Islands, Palma de Mallorca and Melilla, a Spanish city in North Africa. We continue to serve these destinations until more volumes come from laboratories and we can start distributing to other stations across our network from Madrid.

How has the new Constant Climate Centre changed the way you work?

The Constant Climate Centre has been transformational, and one of the achievements I’m most proud of. With 900 sqm of cold chain cargo space, two cool chambers maintained at the necessary temperatures for shipments, it is a world-class handling facility, and we are audited by external authorities annually to maintain our GDP certification. To transport vaccines from the terminal to the aircraft, we use a dedicated fleet of eight refrigerated trucks. Once in the belly of the aircraft, we maintain the temperature of the hold according to the shipments’ requirements.

What are your stand-out moments from the last year?

There was a point at the start of the outbreak when medical supplies from China were nearly impossible to get hold of because of the demand – every country on the planet was trying to get the same supplies from different airports in China. As a result, we chose Shenzhen as an alternative station, which we then audited in a matter of days – a record achievement – because it wasn’t then part of our network. We sent three cargo specialists together with two teams of flight crew, but as Covid was such a critical threat then in China, our staff weren’t allowed to leave the aircraft, they had to sleep onboard, and only a select number of specialists were allowed off to inspect the units. It was incredibly challenging, but such an achievement that we were able to safely certify Shenzhen airport and guarantee the transit of life-saving medical supplies.

Interested in our cold chain operation? Find out more about Constant Climate here.