Etihad Cargo’s manager of global cool chain solutions and the GDP Pharma manager details the role Etihad plays in the global cold chain.
The perishable export market has been growing steadily over the last decade, and it remained robust during the COVID-19 pandemic, bolstered by strong segment demand and the efforts of governments around the world to ensure the continuous supply of perishable products. Etihad Cargo has remained well-positioned to leverage this increased demand as we transport perishables across our global network.
There are a few factors that Etihad Cargo considers when it comes to matching market demand for the shipping of perishables, including regulations, infrastructure and assets—Etihad Cargo’s aircraft, processes and training.
Our commitment to ensuring we provide world-class services is precisely why Etihad Cargo became International Air Transport Association (IATA) Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) Fresh-certified in 2019.
IATA CEIV Fresh certification demonstrates Etihad Cargo’s compliance with Perishable Cargo Regulations (PCR), ensuring food safety, reducing waste, reinforcing trust, and enabling us, in partnership with our customers, to implement best practices across all required cold chain solutions.
IATA CEIV Fresh certification also gives our customers confidence that Etihad Cargo’s commercial activities and operations adhere to the highest industry standards and can trust that Etihad Cargo’s FreshForward product provides the fresh, fast, simple, and efficient features they need from their air cargo partner of choice.
Cold chain solutions are a critical component of the global supply chain structure for several reasons. Firstly, cool chain as a solution is incredibly dynamic and presents a great opportunity for carriers to finetune their processes, innovate, test the latest technologies and tools—such as software and active and passive temperature and location devices— and collaborate with the complete supply chain to improve forecasting, packaging solutions and lead times.
Etihad Cargo works closely with Validaide, a digital platform that collects data, to manage full cool chain capabilities and share them with the industry with just the click of a button. Etihad Cargo is also working to enhance tracking and monitoring utilising a digital twin system.
Here in the UAE, we have a very dynamic and active cool chain supply chain ecosystem, in which regulatory bodies and business entities work together closely with the shared goal of building a better future. This, in addition to the adoption of new tools and the development of improved technological advancements, is making it easier than ever before to transport perishables across longer distances.
Etihad Cargo ships a wide and diverse range of perishable products, including fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, flowers, meat, chocolate, seeds, plants, eggs and dairy, such as cheese. The commodity type we ship the most of is fruit and vegetables, which makes up 40 per cent of our total perishables volume. Meat and fish come in second, making up close to one-third of our total volume.
The regions in which Etihad Cargo operates certainly have an impact on the volume of products we transport. For example, Etihad Cargo has an expansive footprint in Europe and Africa, so we ship a lot of flowers. In fact, we carried more than 6,400 tonnes of flowers in 2021, making this product our fourth-highest ranked in terms of volume.
Our main trade lanes originate from North and South Asia and India, into the Middle East and Europe. Our routes also address the demand in the Middle East and Asia for goods that originate from Europe and Africa. One of Etihad Cargo’s top perishables markets is India. In 2021, Indian fresh exports ranked as our fourth-largest market and increased shipping volumes by over 40 per cent.
Demand for India’s exports is predominantly driven by fruits and vegetables, including baby corn, pomegranate and coconut chunks—this product group makes up two-thirds of all exports from India transported by Etihad Cargo. We usually export these commodities at temperatures between 2-8 degrees Celsius into Europe and the UK, followed by a few countries in the Middle East. Demand for Indian mangoes is fully driven by UK markets, and they are Etihad Cargo’s second most popular commodity shipped from India, making up 10-14 per cent of all perishable goods out of India.
Globally, we usually export between 3,800-4,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables every year.
When it comes to the historical challenges associated with transporting perishables, environmental temperature and time will always be critical factors. Another fundamental challenge comes at the time of handover—from the customer to the airline—when the airline has several processes to complete, including acceptance of the product and moving it to the cool room, then moving the product from the cool room to the aircraft, and upon arrival at the destination then moving the perishables from the aircraft to the cool room or sending it directly out for delivery to the consignee.
There are a lot of steps where everything must be managed to the minute, and that is precisely why Etihad Cargo constantly monitors lead times and uses specialised thermal covers to mitigate the environmental conditions outside the cool room and aircraft hold. Etihad Cargo invests extensively in training, as highly trained staff are essential to maintaining quality throughout the entire perishables’ journey.
In just a few months, Etihad Cargo will open a new cool chain centre located right next to our current warehouse. This state-of-the-art facility will double Etihad Cargo’s cool chain capacity and capabilities. While manufacturing is not currently one of Etihad Cargo’s activities, warehousing, monitoring and cross-docking with specific cool chain equipment most certainly are. We’re very excited to share news about these upcoming developments in the near future, so watch this space!
We foresee a number of positive impacts resulting from the opening of Etihad Cargo’s new cool chain facility. Not only will the facility expand our capabilities for pharmaceutical flows but also for perishables flows as well, so it’s good news all around. Etihad Cargo has a fantastic ground-handling team managed by Etihad Airport Services, who are fully trained and highly skilled in handling perishables and pharmaceutical products as quicky, efficiently and safely as possible in compliance with all regulations.
Etihad Cargo’s new cool chain facility will enhance our FreshForward product offering and will benefit the perishables community with increased capacity, as well as providing a smoother transfer to Etihad Cargo’s FreshForward trucks when the products need to be delivered in the UAE or handed over to the consignee at Abu Dhabi Airport.
According to a Research and Markets report, the global food logistics market is projected to reach around US$ 162 billion by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of 8.3 per cent during the 2019-2024 period. Air cargo is an essential logistics component of the food industry, and while we expect to see a continuous increase in perishables, we also foresee diversification in commodity types being transported.
You need only look at the increasing size and importance of e-commerce in consumers’ daily lives to realise we are going to see a shift in product requirements. There is a high probability we will start to see smaller perishables shipments that require express service levels, so providing temperature-controlled environments on a larger scale will play a more significant role in airlines’ operations.
Etihad Cargo did not see diminished cargo demand during the pandemic, especially for cool chain products. However, the opening of international borders and the availability of manpower are critical elements for future increases in supply chain volumes.
One of the most significant challenges at the outset of the pandemic in 2020 was the massive decrease in air passengers, which had the knock-on effect of reducing routes and networks. However, despite this, Etihad Cargo remained very active in the shipment of cargo. We successfully converted a number of passenger aircraft to become cargo-only. This adaptability and flexibility enabled Etihad Cargo to meet the high demand for cargo throughout the pandemic. As a result, Etihad Cargo witnessed a large increase in volumes of our cool chain products—PharmaLife and FreshForward—compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In 2021, despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Etihad Cargo shipped 14 per cent more perishable products than in 2020 while achieving our best results since the carrier’s launch.