FRA and its handlers have been supported by constructive and flexible cooperation among the airport community, says Claus Wagner, managing director for FCS Frankfurt Cargo Services
What have been the biggest challenges – as a business and operationally?
The biggest issue is the volatility associated within the current circumstances. As a GHA, we generally work to a schedule that allows us to plan our work days and weeks. Our industry usually does not face an environment of constant change, or to review and develop processes on the run. It is very interesting to notice that our team is sufficiently aware and flexible to react to this situation of crisis and is managing to handle these unusual conditions.
In these current abnormal times, we need to handle rules and regulations flexibly and accordingly. We don’t want to throw out the rulebook; however, the normal regulations are based on a business-as-usual situation that is not given at the moment. Therefore, we need to respond to the current circumstances and show that we are able to flexibly handle working arrangements for both employee and employer to meet the demands of the business as they are now.
We implemented health and safety measure to protect our staff and expect the same from trucking companies and other partners. Our priority is to protect our staff. Therefore, we take official measures such as social distancing and hygiene regulations extremely seriously.
How have you responded to these challenges?
Our management and administration workforce is working in a very flexible way. Rapidly we digitalised processes, implemented working from home offices, and workarounds were quickly installed where required. To handle the additional workload, we intensified the partnership with our suppliers, to have access to additional staff.
Has there been any significant cooperation between stakeholders?
Yes, definitely. Being part of both WFS Worldwide Flight Services with its international network and Fraport AG, the owner and operator of Frankfurt Airport, that play an important role for our industry in this time of crisis, our stakeholders support our operations in each of their core competences.
Furthermore, we cooperate very closely with the Air Cargo Community of Frankfurt Airport. We are following a common contingency planning to ensure the continuation of cargo handling services to the required extent at FRA, and support to keep FRA running as a major European cargo hub.
What challenges have been presented by the introduction of cargo-only passenger aircraft services, and/or increased numbers of freighter aircraft?
The ad hoc operations are now playing a big role in our daily business. We learned to react quickly and communicate in a very transparent way with all the parties involved. We have managed as a team to quickly adapt processes to new types of aircraft and loading requirements. Fraport Ground Handling even provides dedicated equipment for main deck hand loading.
Has the increased number of healthcare-related shipments presented any particular challenges or opportunities?
We at FCS are well equipped for handling pharma goods in any case, having temperature-controlled storage facilities and very well-trained staff that knows how to handle and monitor these processes. Until now, our storage capacity is sufficient and contingencies didn’t have to be activated. However, we are prepared to react quickly if required.
Have you had to let go of or furlough significant numbers of staff? Have any government initiatives helped?
No, as we are still handling relatively high tonnages, we haven’t reduced staff or needed to start working short times. On the contrary – we need more staff than usual, because we take the infection protection measures very seriously and still keep a good staffing level to ensure a smooth flow of cargo.
Governmental actions such as emergency childcare for employees in the logistics industry or easing the short-term exchange of staff between different companies support our work in these days.
To what extent has it been possible to maintain normal levels of service or handling times in recent weeks – for example, due to the challenges of handling cargo-only passenger flights and/or high levels of staff absences?
We experience a broad mutual understanding for the unusual circumstances of all parties. Of course, the situation leads to temporary peak situations and in some case also slower handling times, but this is not a persistent situation.
We are quickly adjusting our manpower to maintain the agreed service levels. Of course, the regular KPI-based performance measurements keep going on, whereby we put the focus on priority handling for urgently needed relief goods. Priorities have changed. Some processes might take a bit longer due to infection protection. To ensure both keeping distance regulations and our level of service, we expanded the delivery and acceptance offices to provide more space for truck drivers and for our staff.
What have you done to help protect staff from exposure to the virus itself?
We follow the governmental regulations, implementing almost daily updates and new measures. This includes:
Hand sanitiser throughout the facility
Disinfectant wipes for all fork lifts
Office disinfection cleanings conducted twice per day
All public reception areas now have permanent Plexiglas barriers creating a physical barrier between staff and customers/truck drivers
Ensure social distancing between staff members and between staff and truck drivers
Providing ear thermometers to check the temperature if a staff member indicates feeling unwell
Regular pandemic meetings with the airport medical staff are conducted to monitor and revisit any required initiatives
Face masks have been issued as a precaution
What new opportunities have arisen, amid the challenges of the last few weeks?
The current situation helped to push forward digitalising internal processes and to prove our ability of working remotely. We built a strong relationship and cooperation within the Air Cargo Community by strengthening the cooperation between the logistic partners at the airport.
To what extent did your contingency planning prepare you?
We have contingencies in place for variations in volume, which include additional warehouse space, extended capacities, adjustment of handling processes to get more capacity with short notice etc. A good communication with customers is essential; we have established measurements already before and use the existing communication channels. We are receiving positive feedback on this. Of course, the scenario of losing a large amount of staff in critical areas of the operation can only be covered to a certain extent. The scenarios are planned with contingencies to our best possible abilities and until today we are glad that we didn’t have to take most of the contingencies yet.
What lessons have been learned for future contingency planning?
Contingency planning was developed well in our company in the past years. Lessons learned now include of course responding to short-term actions and pandemic planning.
How well do you feel the air cargo handling sector has responded to the various challenges?
Overall, we see a positive response of the community with a lot of mutual understanding and constructive and flexible cooperation. Of course, everyone is working right now according to priorities. A higher share of digitalised processes would help in the current environment.
How do you see the situation evolving over the coming weeks and months?
We are hoping for a quick recovery and business returning to normal in summer; however, it is very difficult to plan. We have high tonnages of relief goods, but on the other hand production facilities are still closed, with decreasing demand for import goods and less output. It all depends on how the overall crisis develops.
What preparations do you have in place for volumes returning to more normal levels?
There is a change in freight structure due to changed flight plans, but as we are, in total volumes, almost on a normal level, we are well prepared with staffing, warehouse space, equipment etc.