Resilience in adversity

posted on 27th May 2020
Resilience in adversity

Good communication and coordination has helped CDG continue playing its vital role in France’s economy, ensuring the transport of medical products and more typical cargo like perishables and e-commerce, says Edouard Mathieu, head of development and partnerships at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, Groupe ADP

What have been the biggest challenges – mainly operationally, but also as a business?
The big challenge was in maintaining the resilience of our cargo activity, which has required the exchange of daily information between all the logistical chain stakeholders: shippers, freight forwarders, handlers, civil aviation and custom Authorities, air traffic control, and obviously airlines. We’ve achieved this with success at Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport, and to get a balance between full-cargo flights and passenger belly operations. As everybody had very quickly taken measures to reduce the spread of the virus within his own organisation, our common efforts mainly focused on how to preserve the cargo demand for capacity from the drop of passenger flights. The entire air cargo chain has stayed in place and has been able to provide a full capacity offer, thanks to new frequencies of ‘ferry’ flights, passenger aircraft that are usually used by passengers and the bellies of which are filled with cargo, thus addressing the demand at CDG.

How have you responded to these challenges?
Some specific measures have been introduced. From the beginning of the crisis, we brought together the entire airport cargo community and organised skype meetings each 48 hours. It allowed us to understand the main operational issues and find solutions. First of all was how to increase the capacity offered to transport goods, how to reduce the financial impacts of the crisis for operators, how to maintain the fluidity of the operations… This led us to have actions with airlines, French national authorities – such as civil aviation and customs.

Has there been any significant cooperation between stakeholders or as an airport cargo community?
Definitely, yes! Thanks to the collaborated efforts of its entire cargo community, CDG has managed to maintain its pivotal role in supporting the French economy – it accounts for more than 90% of the air freight tonnages in France. CDG is playing a vital role ensuring transport of medical products and also usual cargo segments like perishables and e-commerce, both of which are subject to a huge demand.

To what extent has it been possible to maintain normal levels of service or handling times?
Adaptability and resilience form the genetic makeup of the logistic sector. We had, therefore, the ability to maintain a level of service in accordance with the needs of our customers. The best proof for this is that – so far – we have not encountered any single issue in the on-forwarding of the production of our major industries: food, beverages, e-commerce, and even luxury goods.

What new opportunities have arisen, if any, amid the undoubted challenges of the last few weeks?
This crisis is a unique occasion to spotlight the cargo activity and make everybody – from decision-makers to the general public – aware of the strategic role of air cargo in the world economy for supplying the population with foodstuff, pharmaceutical, consumables, industrial products. We hope that after the crisis this will still remain ingrained in everyone’s mind.

What levels of cargo traffic volumes is the airport seeing currently compared with last year?
Cargo activity at CDG is very resilient; the total number of full cargo flights has been down by only 2% over the first quarter of 2020 – a remarkable performance.
What preparations do you have in place for volumes returning to more normal levels?
Everything is set in place for welcoming again CDG’s standard volumes. The determining factor for this will be the human one, and everybody is now working on the appropriate measures and procedures that will keep employees from the virus and from a new spread of it.

Do you have any other comments or observations about the current challenging environment?
Our main concern today, as France’s number 1 airport, is to stand by the side of our fellow citizens and industrial partners. This is our daily battle, and it is still too soon to draw any definite conclusion as to where the industry might then shift to post-crisis. Of course, the operations on the ground will never be the same as before the crisis and there will surely be adjustments in the chain, like safeguarding and improving the sanitary conditions of the staff. For the rest, I do not think that this crisis will bring a big change to the basics of overseas transport. Whatever the frequency or the network of an airline, a passenger aircraft will always increase its bottom line when transporting belly cargo. This basic economical law will not be challenged by this crisis.