Emirates SkyCargo, Qatar Airways and Southwest Airlines each received platinum awards in their respective tonnage categories at Air Cargo World’s annual Air Cargo Excellence awards ceremony last month at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Carriers were rated on customer service, performance, value and information technology. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Frankfurt Airport and nine other airports from around the globe received Air Cargo Excellence awards in a handful of airport categories. The airports had been rated on performance, value, facilities and operations during the previous year by their carrier customers.
Emirates took top prize in the Air Carrier – 800,000or More Tonnes division; Lufthansa representatives grabbed the diamond award. Cargolux accepted the diamond award in Qatar’s category of Air Carrier – 300,000 to 799,999 Tonnes. Swiss WorldCargo took diamond next to Southwest’s platinum in the category for carriers who transport less than 299,999 tonnes of freight.
The airports were divided by region and ranked into three categories — airports that see fewer than 400,000 tonnes of airfreight each year; those that see between 400,000 tonnes and 1 million tonnes; and those that see more than 1 million tonnes of freight. In three North American tonnage categories, Houston and Chicago Rockford airports joined Anchorage in the winners circle. Leipzig and Zurich were recognized as outstanding European airports alongside Frankfurt. In the Latin America and Middle East competitions, Santiago and Dubai took home the prizes, respectively. Finally, in the Asia/Pacific tonnage categories, Hong Kong, Osaka (KIX) and Macau celebrated wins over a crowded field of finalists.
Emirates ranked very high in all the carrier categories, achieving its best score in information technology. Ram Menen, who accepted the award for Emirates, says that IT is very important for the carrier, especially the quest to take paper out of the business, which will improve efficiency. He says that airline officials are constantly asking themselves how they can add value to their customers’ business.
Menen will take his ACE award into what he sees as a challenging year for cargo. He expects the first two quarters to be very slow, and with Europe’s economic troubles remaining a huge uncertainty, it’s hard to predict when things will pick up, he says. But as long as Emirates stays true to the reasons why clients voted for them, the carrier will stay on top, he says. “That’s what we hang our hat on, that commitment to quality and that commitment to commitment, basically,” Menen says. “It’s what we focus very heavily on. Service excellence is something that’s a part of how we do things.”
Lufthansa also saw high marks in information technology. Both Emirates and Lufthansa consistently rank toward the top in the annual surveys, and Lufthansa’s Nils Haupt says that’s because of a constant stress on service. In an interview conducted before the awards ceremony, he explained that since Lufthansa is in an expensive part of the world, the carrier usually can’t bring costs down when compared to others.
“Our rates are traditionally a bit higher than those of the other carriers, so you really need to rely on quality,” he says. “This is a thing we really focus on, and which we will focus on in the future. We need to be the premium carrier, and our customers see us as a premium carrier.”
The first few months of the year have been a bit of a cooling off for Lufthansa, Haupt says. The carrier had two incredibly strong months to start 2011, leading to one of the best first quarters in Lufthansa’s history, so the weak year-over-year numbers seen so far in 2012 aren’t much of a surprise to Haupt. He says a lackluster cargo business out of China is causing most of the problems, and that the South American and U.S. markets are still quite strong for Lufthansa. All things considered, Haupt predicts a flat growth rate for this year.
“For the end of this year we expect a good result, but it will be less than 2011 and the record year of 2010,” Haupt says, adding that this is pretty much what everyone in the market will see. “There might be some markets that still can be quite successful. In general, you have seen the figures from Cathay, you’ve seen the figures from other Asian carriers, you’ve read that Singapore Airlines is decreasing capacity, so growth will for sure not come out of the Asian market this year.”
Even with the rocky economy, Lufthansa is focused on customer service and the other metrics the Air Cargo Excellence survey measures. He says Lufthansa sends surveys to its customers three times a year to make sure the carrier is doing a good job. While the results are positive, Haupt says there’s always room for improvement. “You always can get better — optimize your processes, optimize customer service, optimize your ground handling,” he says.
Southwest and Swiss WorldCargo topped a carrier category that also included Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand and Air Canada among the five finalists. Southwest received its highest marks in performance, while customers of Swiss WorldCargo felt that information technology was Swiss’ best asset. Qatar Airways received the top prize for the first time in the awards survey, nudging out Cargolux by only a few points. Customers recognized Qatar for a high level of customers service and performance.
At Ted Stevens International Airport, manager John Parrott says that freight numbers are currently down a bit, reflecting an unfortunate trend seen throughout the world. He added that his airport’s struggles are mostly tied to the Asia-Pacific region. “We believe we’re a pretty good barometer of that Asia-North American economic climate, and it’s just very cool right now,” he says. “We didn’t see the big Christmas push, anywhere near where we had seen in previous years. We’re pretty much in the doldrums.”
The rest of the year should bring some turnaround for the airport, Parrott says, as he’s hearing from his carriers that the industry will start to grow a bit toward the end of 2012.
“This is one of those economic times that we all go through, and then there’s a recovery,” he says. “Generally, what happens in all kinds of cyclical things is that it comes back stronger than it was, but different than it was, and we want to make sure that we and our carriers are positioned to take advantage of the recovery and the differences, whatever they may be.”
Ken Ryan of Chicago Rockford traveled to Kuala Lumpur to accept the top award in the smallest North American tonnage category on his airport’s behalf. He says the airport did so well in this year’s survey — carriers awarded Rockford with high scores in each metric — because of the tireless nature of his airport colleagues.
“I have been in the private sector my whole career. I can tell you that this airport, I have not been in a more entrepreneurial atmosphere anywhere,” he says. “The airport is absolutely dedicated to the customers that are currently there. If there is an issue, we immediately try to resolve it.”