Tailoring air freighted salmon globally: “an endless jigsaw puzzle”

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Air transport enables seafood to be exported to all four corners of the world, but is a complex business that requires careful planning. Operators need to be quick-witted in finding other solutions when delays occur, as for example bad weather closing down airports.

A cargo aircraft from Korean Air Cargo comes in for landing at Oslo International Airport (Gardermoen). Its wings vibrating almost imperceptibly as the aircraft touches down. In the space of the next 30 minutes unit load devices (ULD) with 80 tonnes of fish will be loaded on board the aircraft. The pilot, a Korean man in his mid-thirties, gives a friendly but resolute nod, before he sets down with his crew and waits for the loading to begin.

In a cool store just a stone’s throw away an employee is preparing the shipment. He receives the fish that are to be transported and prints out breakdown lists. From there the boxes of salmon are loaded on to ULDs, which are driven out to the aircraft.

“We tailor deliveries globally according to the customer’s requirements. That’s why we are constantly working on finding new solutions, faster routes and cost-effective ways to carry seafood,” says Morten Würgler, Head of Air Perishables at Schenker.

PHOTO: Emili Knutson

Critical miscalculated forecasts
DB Schenker is a prominent player in the sector for land, sea and air freight in Norway and elsewhere in the world. The conditions required for transporting fresh goods by air are many, and Würgler describes it as a challenging and complex process.

Morten Würgler. PHOTO: Emili Knutson

“We find the route that is the best fit for the fish we export. It’s an endless jigsaw puzzle because there are different requirements for each dispatch. Everyone wants the quickest and cheapest delivery, but delays can happen,” he says.

DB Schenker receives orders based on sales, combined with forecasts from the packing sections. The load is secured before it arrives at the airport, and if there is no space on the desired aircraft, Schenkers employees must redirect the capacity or find alternative routes.

“The situation becomes critical if the forecasts fail from the packing section or the exporter. For example, we carry a lot of oily fish to Asia, which at times is challenging. Fish from southern Norway are slaughtered the day before the shipping date, and sometimes we have to make changes at the last minute,” says Würgler.

Combined with incomplete delivery information, any incorrect forecast may result in an airline flying with reduced weight capacity, which means less revenue. It is essential for airlines to have their aircraft fly at a profit in order to maintain the route network. Schenker tracks shipments to ensure consignments arrive in time. That way they can follow the salmon all the way to its final destination.

“We utilize companies that meet our quality requirements, including that they have good routines, are punctual and provide us with secured capacity throughout the year. All shipments are tracked using an AVB number on the airlines’ websites. That allows us to receive feedback via their system, says Würgler.

Quick-witted clarifications
Ola Ingebrigtsen, Team Manager for Air Perishables at Schenker, stresses that delays are a challenge they face in freight of fresh fish.

Ola Ingebrigtsen. PHOTO: Emili Knutson

“There can be instances where we have to wait two or three days before we are allocated space on aircraft. We have experienced storms in America where shipments have been left standing for several days unable to reach the final destination. That has major economic consequences. To solve such problems, we have to think on our feet,” says Ingebrigtsen.

One solution, according to Ingebrigtsen, is to find new routes or get the OK to redistribute the fish to other markets while in transit.

“If we have a truck on its way to Amsterdam with departure from Schiphol, but the airport is closed due to inclement weather, we can redirect the truck to London and fly the salmon from there. That way, we can deliver the cargo with a 6-hour delay, rather than the original delay of 24 hours,” says Ingebrigtsen.

In 2015, Schenker established a cool store at Heathrow Airport. Here the fish are loaded into ULDs and transferred to their respective airlines before departure. The cool store enables the company to maintain an extensive route network with many daily departures to different destinations.

PHOTO: Emili Knutson

Controlled cold chain
Nonetheless, delays occur daily, and it is crucial for Schenker to keep the salmon in an unbroken cold chain. Subsequently, the temperature of the aircraft is monitored and regulated by the pilots during transit.

“The fish must be properly safeguarded and shipped to us at the right temperatures,” says Ingebrigtsen, “and the exporter must have packed the goods in accordance with the approved air transport package”.

In order to prevent the quality of the fresh produce from deteriorating, the seafood is sent straight to the cool store when it arrives at the destination.

“Delays can pose problems for importers, who have often sold the fish beforehand, but with good information and communication it often turns out alright. Seafood can withstand delays if it is transported at the correct temperature, concludes Ingebrigtsen.

PHOTO: Emili Knutsen

To Korea in record time
The aircraft’s doors jerk open. A team of men in protective clothing have gathered around the plane while waiting patiently for the truck that loads the ULDs into the cargo compartment. The inside of the transport plane is empty except for small metal wheels that cover the entire floor.

When the first ULD has been loaded on board, these wheels, which are automated and controlled from the wall of the aircraft, roll the goods into position. The team works systematically to position the ULDs exactly in the stipulated space. The route is flown directly four times a week, and allocation of the cargo is planned with the utmost precision.

60 minutes later the aircraft takes off, and nine and a half hours later it is landing in Seoul.

PHOTO: Emili Knutsen

This story was first time published at www.ilaks.no 30 October 2016