SkyCargo, Emirates’ cargo unit, has seen solid operations from its hubs at Dubai’s twin airports in the past 18 months, despite international trade disputes and softening global economic conditions, Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president for cargo, told AIN in the run-up to Dubai Airshow.
Today, Emirates SkyCargo transports cargo on Emirates fleet of 268 aircraft. In addition to its all-widebody passenger fleet of Airbus A380s and Boeings, the unit operates 12 dedicated freighters—11 Boeing 777s, and one Boeing 747, on lease from Cargolux.
“Our passenger aircraft can transport anywhere between 10 and 20 tonnes of cargo per flight, whereas our freighters are capable of flying around 100 tonnes,” Sultan said. “As part of our fleet renewal program, which allows us to operate a modern and efficient fleet of aircraft, we have 115 Boeing 777-9Xs, 15 B777-8Xs, 40 Airbus A330-900s, and 30 A350-900s on order over the coming years.”
During the fiscal year that ended on March 31, SkyCargo transported close to 2.7 million tonnes of cargo, up 1.4 percent on the previous year's figure, and contributing 14 percent of the airline’s total transport revenue. It claims to be the largest cargo carrier in the world, as measured by freight tonne kilometers (FTKMs).
Five years ago, SkyCargo transferred dedicated freighter operations to Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). Emirates SkyCentral DWC, which accommodates the latest air freight technologies and consolidates Dubai’s position as a global logistics hub, opened in 2015, with a capacity of almost 1 million tonnes per year, similar in size to the existing facility at Dubai International (DXB).
“We fly cargo to over 155 destinations across six continents,” he said. “In addition to over 255 passenger flights every day from Dubai, our freighter fleet covers a network of over 40 destinations every week on a scheduled basis. Our main focus is to optimize our cargo capacity on both the freighters and passenger aircraft, as well as the interaction between the two.”
SkyCargo’s freighters also operate to destinations outside the Emirates network on an ad-hoc or charter basis. “Last year we executed 395 charters across six continents. There is a demand not only for full charters point-to-point, but also for other unique solutions, including part-charter—rerouting to a destination that we may not serve on a scheduled basis.
“We have a small but very responsive and agile team that set up operations in a very short time. We have frequently been able to deploy freighters within 24 hours. When working for international relief agencies in a natural disaster or crisis, we have often been among the first airlines to respond and mobilize.”
The DWC and DXB terminals also feature extensive cool-chain facilities, including a fleet of cool dollies, to protect cargo, such as pharmaceuticals and perishables, from temperature excursions when on the ramp or being transported between the aircraft and cargo terminal.
Specialized product offerings include Emirates Pharma and Emirates Fresh. SkyCargo also recently launched Emirates AOG for the rapid transportation of aircraft components. Other products include Emirates Safe, for valuable and vulnerable cargo.
“We recently opened a purpose-built facility dedicated for pharma at Chicago Airport, which, incidentally, is an important station for pharma transport,” he said. “In cooperation with the ground handler, we ensure that temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are also protected outside of Dubai.”
A dedicated fleet of 47 trucks operates around the clock between Emirates SkyCentral DWC and DXB, transferring cargo from the freighter hub to belly-hold operations, and vice versa. Cargo movement between the two airports takes just under five hours, allowing freighter-borne cargo to connect efficiently and quickly to aircraft flying on Emirates SkyCargo’s network.
Emirates SkyCentral DWC also houses a horse-lounge area with a permanent horse ramp, which allows for safe equine boarding and disembarkation. “Our freighter aircraft transported close to 1,800 horses across the world in 2018,” Sultan said.
He said U.S.-China trade tensions have weighed on the industry this year, and that the cargo market has become extremely competitive. “The air cargo industry globally has [seen] a relative slowdown in 2019. Trade disputes between major economic powers and political uncertainty around Brexit [haven’t helped]. Major manufacturing economies such as Germany have seen a decline in export orders and this has a direct impact on air freight demand.”