Game changer

posted on 25th April 2018

Delta Cargo’s multi-year ‘transformation programme’ has brought many changes, and the opening last August of the carrier’s Cargo Control Centre has been key, vice president Shawn Cole tells Will Waters

Shawn Cole, EVP, Cargo, Delta Air Lines © 2017, Chris Rank, Rank Studios

Shawn Cole joined the Delta Cargo team in July last year having spent 10 years at Delta on the passenger side of the business. The VP cargo role is new and was introduced when Gareth Joyce was promoted to president of cargo and senior vice president of airport customer service. Cole’s role is focused on delivering the cargo transformation programme that Joyce introduced in 2016, with the focus on “superior commercial, financial and operational performance”. But Cole is also looking to bring in to the cargo business some of the things he learned on the passenger side.
So, what are his observations about cargo after more than nine months in the sometimes grittier side of the airline business? “I have found the cargo team to be a group of high-energy, engaged, talented and innovative people, who are really working together towards transforming Delta Cargo into a customer-centric business,” he observes, stressing that “they are the key to our success” as the carrier transforms its business “to being the number one in air freight”.
He continues: “I see my role as continuing the transformation programme that Gareth introduced, as well as providing a fast and sustainable link with the passenger side of the business. I want to ensure we are learning from all areas of the business such as the customer service groups, the network team, and our operational control centre, and introducing any areas of best practice on the cargo side.”
Delta says it has already been benefiting from the focus on operational reliability within the multi-year transformation programme, with significant improvements in various operational performance measures. “Operational reliability gives us predictability,” says Cole, claiming Delta “continues to run the best operation in the industry. Delta finished the year with 242 days without a mainline cancellation and 90 ‘brand perfect’ days, with no cancellations of any Delta or Delta Connection flight. This is a level of performance that no airline has ever come close to producing on our scale, and was achieved despite unprecedented operational challenges.”
He claims the carrier’s “operational reliability and outstanding service” are “the reasons why more customers than ever prefer to trust Delta with their cargo shipments”, adding: “Plus, Delta has consistently been the leading US carrier in Cargo iQ’s on-time availability (NFD) for more than a year now.”
Alongside this, he says Delta is also focused on “providing products and services that are focused on our customers. Whilst we have made great strides on operational reliability we will continue to do more and integrate our global partners, so that we have a consistency of service right across the globe.”

Below Wing Employee loading container onto an Airbus 330-300 (333). © Delta Air Lines

Complete transparency
Alongside operational reliability, he says customers have also been asking for complete transparency in the cargo shipment process, and to provide on-the-spot issue resolution. “To support this aim, we wanted to have the technology to know where the cargo was across our global network, plus to have standardised processes, operational discipline, and warehouse efficiency.”
A key element of this has been the opening in August 2017 of the carrier’s Cargo Control Centre (CCC), based in the Delta Cargo office within Delta’s World Headquarters, “to support daily cargo operations across the globe”. Cole adds: “We are building a business that is innovative, thoughtful and reliable, and the Cargo Control Centre is really an example of that innovation in action. The new Atlanta facility provides comprehensive coverage of all aspects of cargo transportation and management, with the ability to track air shipments, trucks, mail, and freight – domestically and internationally.
“This has been a game changer for cargo operations and for the logistics industry. The team in the CCC know exactly where freight is at all times, anywhere on the globe. With that information, we can be far more proactive in predicting potential service issues and providing freight solutions to our customers. The CCC and our customer support centre are open 24/7 so give us real visibility to cargo shipments right across the globe at all times as well as being able to support our customers, wherever in the globe they are.”
For example, he says during the summer 2017 Hurricanes, the team in the CCC worked with the cargo commercial, operations and sales teams, and other critical groups, to anticipate issues and take action. “We were able to move freight via our other hubs when Hurricane Irma was heading to Atlanta,” Cole notes. “The CCC was also critical in supporting relief shipments for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.”

Products and tracking
But Delta has also been making significant progress in piloting and introducing automated tracking technology into its operations, to improve the reliability, efficiency, and timeliness of the tracking process and for the development of fully tracked cargo products – as well as what appears to be a significant step change in the air cargo tracking and visibility capabilities of a major global carrier.
Cole explains: “We are focused on best-in-class customer experience and operational reliability, with differentiated products and services that are tailored and developed to make it easier to do business with Delta Cargo. From customer feedback it became clear that they wanted complete transparency in the cargo shipment process. This led to the rollout of products such as Dash Critical and Medical for the US domestic market and Equation Critical for international critical shipments, both with GPS technology and high-priority across the system.”
This is complemented by other investments in developing differentiated products, including on the pharma side. “Delta became the first US global passenger carrier to join the elite group of pharma logistics providers to achieve IATA’s CEIV Pharma Certification,” highlights Cole. “The safe and efficient transportation of pharma products for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry was a key priority for us.”

Piggybacking passenger
Delta Cargo is also in the process of ‘piggybacking’ on an RFID-based tracking system being developed in the passenger side of Delta’s airline business. “With Delta’s strong operational performance, we need this to translate into our cargo operations ensuring reliable freight delivery right across our global network,” says Cole. “The rollout of RFID technology on the passenger side is going well and we have seen a very positive customer response. The RFID trial on the cargo side is going well and we are looking to roll-out RFID across the cargo system in 2019.”

Bluetooth capability
Also in response to customers asking for improved tracking and visibility throughout the shipment process, in March, Delta earlier this year also unveiled plans to become the first major carrier to offer real-time Bluetooth tracking technology on container shipments across its network. “This technology will replace manual tracking of our ULD containers,” explains Cole. “This new technology means that the containers can be tracked and the Delta team will know where the cargo is at all times, which allows better operational reliability and capacity utilisation.”
Initially the ULD tracking will be done via the Cargo Control Centre, “but when the rollout is complete, customers will be able to view where their shipment is on deltacargo.com”, he adds. Rather than developing this ULD capability in-house, he says Delta is working with ACL Airshop and CORE Transport Technologies to provide this service.
So, why are all these developments coming online now? Is it because of new technology becoming available, new demands from customers, or the availability of money within Delta to invest in these kinds of products?

Combination of factors
“I think it is a combination of all of those factors,” Cole says. “We are completely focused on what the customer wants and they are looking for us to provide transparency throughout the shipment process − and now there is the technology to help us do that. There is real momentum on the Delta Cargo side to invest and innovate in the business and that is generating great results and customer loyalty.”
Although the rise in importance of e-commerce traffic is not what has driven these new tracking capabilities, that is a customer segment that has greater expectations than most when it comes to shipment visibility.
“As e-commerce becomes a larger portion of air freight domestically in the US, carriers will need to adapt to more streamlined processes to reduce ground time for freight,” Cole says. As part of this process, carriers and customers will need to work with regulators to improve certain regulations that are currently limiting the ability to use domestic airlift capacity to its full extent, “while also ensuring safety remains paramount for passenger carriers”, Cole notes. “Integrated logistics services will be crucial to provide customers with more seamless end to end solutions. E-commerce offers the best potential for integrated supply chains directly into the domestic carrier space.”
Progress within e-freight and e-AWB penetration are also set to help support these latest tech-led initiatives, as well as bringing other benefits such as lower error rates and productivity improvements. And this, in turn, has been supported by Delta’s new cargo website.
“We have been focused on increasing our digitalisation offering distribution, and our new website, launched in November 2017 is critical in providing our customers with visibility through the shipment process,” says Cole. “The totally re-designed website, deltacargo.com, now provides customers with a one-stop shop for all their cargo needs, making the shipping process easier than ever before. Customers can now book, check-in, manage and track their shipments exclusively online, on a laptop or mobile device, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

100% e-AWB target
“Plus, customers can submit electronic air waybills for free on the website, which eliminates air waybill preparation fees and significantly improves the speed of the customer experience. Through the website, our aim is to achieve 100% e-AWB domestically this summer and internationally later this year, where permissible by local authorities. Delta ranks number 1 out of the US carriers in e-AWB volume and penetration,” Cole points out.
“Last month we also announced some enhancements to the website in the form of offering dynamic air waybill stock and payment changes, and we will continue to look at ways of being more innovative for our customers.”
Delta Cargo is also a leader among air cargo carriers in terms of its involvement in cargo partnerships with other airlines, including longstanding partnerships with Air France KLM Cargo and other members of the SkyTeam Cargo alliance, and more recently with Virgin Atlantic. So, how do these new product capabilities align with those of its alliance partners?
“As Delta continues to grow its foothold and network internationally, Delta Cargo is becoming more connected with global trade and with our airline partners,” Cole says. “We celebrate the first anniversary of the transborder JCA with Aeromexico Cargo in May; an expanding partnership with joint venture partners Virgin Atlantic Cargo, and Air France KLM Cargo − plus the joint venture with Korean Air was recently approved by the US and Korean regulatory authorities,” he adds.
“With all the cargo joint ventures, the goal is to offer customers a broad choice of products and services based on ‘neutral metal’, co-located facilities, aligned products and processes, seamless bookings and collaborative service recovery. These various building blocks are at different stages of development for the different partnerships, but is the clear direction of how we will be working with our partners. An example of the integration is that Virgin Atlantic, and Air France KLM Cargo each have a desk in the Cargo Control Center which provides a close link with the partners and gives us the ability to get prompt action on matters that need the attention of our partners operations, or when Delta needs rerouting of freight on AF/KL/VS metal, and vice versa.”

SkyTeam Cargo
Cole confirms that SkyTeam Cargo also still plays a significant role within Delta’s cargo partnership strategy. “SkyTeam Cargo is an important part of our business and is currently the only multilateral alliance that is actively developing cooperation activities and promoting an alliance to the market,” he explains. “The current global footprint is very comprehensive, offering service from our 12 member hubs to over 850 destinations in 175 countries. We look to meet freight forwarders’ needs by offering consistent service and handling no matter what city on the network you are in, or which carrier you are using. We have developed handling procedures, providing consistency among all partners and smoother transactions for customers. Currently we operate 70 joint warehouses around the world, looking to provide a one-stop-solution to tender or recover customers’ freight. We look to continue adding more cities to this list.”
He continues: “The lack of anti-trust immunity (ATI) does limit the level of cooperation we can achieve, but we are still able to achieve our objectives of common handling, common products and an expanded network. SkyTeam Cargo will continue to look for efficiencies and benefits for its customers and members.”

The next stages
Thanks to the recent ATI, Delta Cargo and Korean Air Cargo will launch “a new joint venture partnership that will offer a world-class cargo operation across one of the most comprehensive route networks in the transpacific market. The expansive combined network formed by this partnership gives Delta and Korean Air’s shared customers seamless access to more than 290 destinations in the Americas and more than 80 in Asia.”
And in December last year, Delta acquired 10% of the outstanding shares of its joint venture partner Air France-KLM. “As part of a long-term investment strategy, the airline is working to develop a combined long-term joint venture with Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic,” Cole adds. “If regulatory approvals are gained, this will bring together the three airlines, providing 260 destinations across the UK, Europe and North America. This will also lead to the number 1 position on capacity to and from key cities including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Paris, Amsterdam and Manchester, and a collective JV network of more than 150 daily transatlantic flights.”

A350 rollout
Another key thing for Delta is the introduction of the A350 into the airline’s fleet, “which is very positive on the cargo side as it is enabling Delta to carry up to 80% more cargo on our transpacific routes”, Cole points out. And 2018 is set to be “a very exciting year for Delta in Asia Pacific”, Cole adds. “In July, we will launch our new Shanghai-Atlanta non-stop service, which will become the third non-stop market between Asia and Atlanta, complementing Seoul − launched June 2017 − and Tokyo.
In addition to these new routes, aircraft upgrades on Delta’s Asia network will continue, including through the introduction of its A350 aircraft. “In January 2018, we launched our third A350 market, Beijing-Detroit, complementing daily service between Tokyo/Narita-Detroit and Seoul/Incheon-Detroit,” Cole says. “This March, we deployed the A350 on Seoul/Incheon-Atlanta, as well as upgraded our Hong Kong-Seattle flight from the A330-200 to the 777-200. In April, we will deploy the A350 on Shanghai-Detroit. Delta continues to make growing investments in Asia-Pacific and we look forward to our customers benefiting from this expanded footprint.”
He says the next stages in the transformation programme for Delta Cargo this year “will see a continued focus on transforming Delta Cargo and building a business that is innovative and focused on the customer and their needs”. He describes innovation as “a brand promise with Delta”, adding: “And we’ll be delivering on that with Delta Cargo moving forward. For us, innovation means that we can develop, test and introduce products and services that better meet the needs of our key customers. We are working to provide greater visibility to shipments along their journey.”
He concludes: “Through enhanced customer experience, technology investment, a focus on distribution channels and metrics-driven performance, we are building a cargo provider that puts the customer first and earns their loyalty through outstanding performance. It is our aim to be the number one in on-time delivery of air freight.”
Whether Delta achieves that aim remains to be seen. But its latest tracking technology innovations are industry-leading, its Cargo iQ performance levels are among the best in the sector, and its ambitious approach to quality-improvement, customer-focus and digitalisation suggest that it may not be far off.