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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

‘Learned valuable lessons about demand, scope for CarGo; will serve us well’

He added that IndiGo has already transported cargo equivalent to the loads carried in the last financial year, within the last five months at limited capacity.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi | November 17, 2020 3:34:38 am
William Boulter

Responding to the demand-supply gap in air cargo, which was created as a result of flight restrictions during the Covid-19 period, low-cost carrier IndiGo launched all cargo flights as a standalone revenue stream, the airline’s chief commercial officer William Boulter told Pranav Mukul in an e-mail interview. He added that IndiGo has already transported cargo equivalent to the loads carried in the last financial year, within the last five months at limited capacity. Edited excerpts:

How much growth did IndiGo witness in its cargo operations during the peak Covid-19 period, and does the company expect these numbers to sustain?

Our CarGo line of business was already performing extremely well, but then we went to a new level with the carriage of essential supplies and medicines in the early weeks of the lockdown. We learned valuable lessons about the demand and scope for CarGo which will definitely serve us well for augmenting our CarGo operations in the months ahead.

If we look at the year-over-year numbers, in July, our cargo revenue was up 9 per cent; in August, our cargo revenue was up 20 per cent; in September, our cargo revenue year-over-year was up 27 per cent — a steadily increasing trend which is obviously very pleasing, especially since our total capacity was sharply reduced in those months. We launched all cargo flights as a standalone revenue stream. Somewhat incredibly, we are now carrying more cargo at much lower capacity, than we did at 100 per cent last year.

Has IndiGo introduced any tweaks to keep up with the growth in cargo business?

IndiGo has been one of the innovative airlines not just in India but also globally. We always find new approaches to combat difficult situations. Having no freighters at all, we deployed around 10 A320/321 passenger aircraft for cargo operations as our ‘CarGo-in-cabin’ charters. Using the aircraft belly space and adding some minor equipment and procedural changes for the cabin, we have been able to carry significant payloads on our passenger aircraft — up to around 20 tonnes, depending on commodity.

For example, we have carried a record highest tonnage of 20,123 kg cargo on A320 (on the Kochi-Abu Dhabi sector).

Apart from medical supplies and Covid essentials, what are some of the top goods transported by IndiGo during the peak Covid period?

The commodities that are being loaded even today include perishable foodstuffs, pharmaceutical products, as well as PPE kits, which were very prominent in the early days of the pandemic. Some shipments such as auto-parts, which were a large component of our pre-Covid loads, continue to be important, and will recover in line with economic activity. We are able to satisfy the demands of much of India’s air cargo needs, even without freighter aircraft.

We are also uplifting more post office mail, on behalf of the Government, than ever before, thanks to our broad network and unmatched flight frequency.

How important a part is cargo business becoming for the airline as the growth in passenger demand remains constricted?

The Covid-induced lockdown this year not only posed a challenge for our business but also turned out to be an opportunity for the CarGo arm. IndiGo operated over 2,100 CarGo charters, transporting more than 18,000 MT of supplies between April ‘20 and September ‘20. The CarGo charter flights operated across 21 destinations within India and internationally, including new stations like Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Cairo in Egypt, Almaty in Kazakhstan and Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

IndiGo has already transported cargo equivalent to the loads carried in the last financial year, within the last five months at limited capacity. The airline has in fact earned marginally higher cargo revenue over these months as compared to the earnings over the last financial year, as a result of the combination of our belly space returning to the market and our extensive cargo-in-cabin operations, plus firmer yields. We are proud to have played a part in maintaining and supporting supply chains in and out of the country by flying medical supplies, fresh vegetables and other export cargo. IndiGo will continue to adapt its business to the needs of the hour and cargo will remain an integral part of our recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

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