A thorough business continuity plan has helped Siginon Aviation continue to meet its various SLAs, despite the challenges currently facing Kenya’s cargo handling sector, says acting general manager Jared Oswago. But it can’t bring back lost import and export volumes
What have been the biggest challenges – as a business and operationally?
Due to the COVID-19, players in the cargo handling sector are currently facing challenges such as: a drastic drop in imports and exports volumes in belly load capacity from cancellation of passenger flights; higher freight rates for the few freighters still operating and exporters and importers are not able to afford these; government interventions such as curfews and lock downs have made it difficult to access consignment destinations and sources for areas out of Nairobi due to lock down; disruptions in the macro environment now demand for a dynamism in work schedules due to current restrictions.
How have you responded to these challenges?
We have converted some of the belly load cargo to freighters for some airlines and provided financial relief to some of our customers, allowing lower handling rates and longer free storage periods. We have also continued to thrive through automation of our processes, holding virtual meetings with our stakeholders as well as including staff working from home.
Has there been any significant cooperation between stakeholders?
Yes, we have experienced tremendous cooperation amongst the stakeholders at the JKIA (NBO) and Eldoret Airports where our operations are based. The stakeholders have engaged various government agencies including the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to provide appropriate reliefs to businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. KAA has also facilitated various forums to create awareness on COVID-19 prevention and provided facilities for personal hygiene and sanitation.
Has the increased number of healthcare-related shipments presented any particular challenges or opportunities?
There are certain challenges especially due to special handling requirements and urgency involved but we have managed to play our part well.
Have you had to let go of or furlough significant numbers of staff?
Fortunately, Siginon Aviation has not laid off any staff. However, due to reduced workload, we have sent a few staff members on paid leave.
Have you benefited from any government assistance provided to air cargo handling companies?
Aviation support service providers have been exempted from the daily dusk to dawn curfew in Kenya, hence our staff can move around in the course of business. Aviation companies will also benefit from the reduced corporate tax measures announced by the Kenya government recently. This also applies other finance relief measures announced by the government to protect businesses in the country.
To what extent has it been possible to maintain normal levels of service in recent weeks?
As Siginon Aviation, we have a business continuity plan (BCP) in place to guide us through the covid-19 crisis. We have further done a number of simulations around the crisis and this has been implemented in live situations with very good outcomes. Currently, we continue to meet and exceed the targets set in our various SLAs.
Has the changed environment meant you have had to change your charging structure – for example via cargo handling surcharges?
We have had to give a lot of concessions due to the negative impact the pandemic has had on the business environment. As such, now is not the time to have surcharges but to provide financial relief. This has really been appreciated by our clients.
What have you done to help protect staff from exposure to the virus itself?
Siginon Aviation is conducting various awareness campaigns on what needs to be done at a personal and collective levels to stop the spread of the pandemic. We are constantly communicating to our staff, customers, and other stakeholders on the evolving nature of the pandemic and how each of us must play a role to stop it. We have further provided sanitation facilities such as sanitizers as well as appropriate PPEs for all our staff.
We have further adjusted our work mode to now having several staff working from home to help stop the spread.
What new opportunities have arisen, amid the challenges of the last few weeks?
We are looking at innovation, working in a more cost-effective way including automating most of our processes to cut on costs and improve on efficiencies. We are also exploring different models of service delivery and new products and services.
To what extent did your contingency planning prepare you for the various scenarios that it has thrown up?
The BCP has been a huge part of our business. The business has made significant investments in ensuring all our processes and systems support business continuity, giving our customers the confidence that they will continue to enjoy Siginon Aviation services even during a crisis.
What lessons have been learned for future contingency planning?
That BCP is not an option but a necessary part of everyday business life.
How well do you feel the air cargo handling sector has responded to the various challenges?
The air cargo sector’s response has been proactive and effective to the covid-19 crisis. As such, I am certain that recovery will not take too long once the situation stabilizes.
How do you see the situation evolving over the coming weeks and months?
We see recovery commencing from May, mainly for the freighters. Passenger flights will take slightly longer to restart, probably around July or later. Air freight recovery will not take long and rates will go down eventually.
What preparations do you have in place for volumes returning to more normal levels as restrictions are eased?
We are working with our various airline clients to work around their handling requirements and creasing our resource allocation as the need increases.
Do you have any other comments or observations about the current challenging environment?
The global covid-19 pandemic is an eye opener and has provided a learning experience. There are hidden opportunities even in the most difficult moment and this is what every business should prepare for.