A ‘challenger brand’ entering the freighter business

posted on 8th March 2023
A ‘challenger brand’ entering the freighter business

Launching its first all-cargo operations this year, WestJet Cargo executive vice-president Kirsten de Bruijn says the key to success will be preparedness

What are your expectations about how the market will develop in 2023?
I think this year will be interesting. We know that cargo is cyclical and so we choose to focus on both the short and long-term strategy of WestJet Cargo. In recent years, our industry has seen yields at all ends of the spectrum, and managed to not only survive, but thrive during a global pandemic. History tells us that, even when faced with the most adverse challenges, cargo will come out better and stronger. For me, challenges create opportunities and the potential to innovate. At WestJet Cargo, innovation is at the heart of our vision. We look forward to modernising our cargo business with the arrival of our first four freighters and we are so excited to enter this new chapter.

What challenges and opportunities do you anticipate, and how do you plan to respond to these?
I think that the launch of our freighter operation presents an incredible opportunity with a unique set of challenges. We have a few competitors in Canada that serve as the benchmark of air cargo and I really look forward to showing them the challenger brand that has defined the WestJet group for over 25 years. The challenges we will see exist in the launch of any newly formed operation – the key to success will be in our preparedness, and trust me, we are prepared! The WestJet Cargo team is hard at work running exercises and building manuals and constructing a really thorough operational playbook.
WestJet Cargo is the newest branch of the WestJet Group and we are really excited to see the business grow and mature. We kind of have a blank slate and a neat opportunity to forge our own path ahead and are so fortunate that we can do that as part of a business that already has an established network of wide and narrowbody carriers. The foundation is here for us to build on.

What role will new and emerging technologies play?
Technology always has and always will play a huge role in our business. The speed and efficiency options we can utilise and provide to our customers will be a major contributor to our success.
WestJet Cargo has recently launched a relationship with SmartKargo that provides really extensive digital solutions that we know will transform the way we’re doing business. This will continue to be a priority for my team as WestJet Cargo grows and evolves.

How can you and other stakeholders in the air freight supply chain work more effectively in 2023 (and beyond) to streamline cargo operational processes and improve cooperation across the air logistics chain?
An obvious challenge since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic has been availability of resources. It is our top priority to bridge the gaps we can identify in the supply chain and to ensure our customers receive their goods when they are expecting them. In addition to the partnership with GTA Dnata, we work extremely closely with the ground handlers at all our stations. We really benefit from existing relationships within the WestJet Group and are thankful that we have a strong team of support to make sure our operation is reliable and on time.

What have you been doing in 2022 to improve air freight efficiency, processes, operations and communications, and what will you do in 2023?
My top priority after arriving to WestJet Cargo in 2022 was building my team. People are the cornerstone of WestJet Cargo and it was imperative to recruit and train the most passionate and reliable team I could.
In 2023, we have been working hard to finalise the best possible conditions for the launch of our freighters. It has been challenging to establish a newly formed cargo operation within an existing passenger operation – the processes are very different. For every similarity we found, we discover a difference and so we have invested a lot into technology, building processes and manuals and education.
The remainder of 2023 will see us continue our development and ensure our processes are infallible. We are working hard to get our roots into the market and are keen to show customers all over the world why they should choose WestJet Cargo.
For 2023, we will of course continue our development and ensure we have better processes to be one of the best partners, especially in the North American market.