Airline interview: Taking the initiative

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Operational reliability and a customer-focused mindset require staff empowered to make the right decisions, says Delta’s cargo president Gareth Joyce

Since the arrival last May of Delta Air Lines’ new president of cargo, Gareth Joyce, Delta Cargo has begun a five-year transformation programme with the primary objective of achieving operational consistency throughout its global network.

Joyce, a native of South Africa who joined Delta from Mercedes-Benz Canada, says the air freight business is all about getting the product to the right place at the right time with a “customer-focused mindset”, with all the company’s investments now going towards achieving that. This means ensuring predictable quality, with one key element being to build and develop a team to deliver that.

“Every single member of our Delta Cargo team is empowered to make decisions around customers,” says Joyce. “You can’t wait for authorisation to make the right decisions for customers in a customer-centric organisation; you have to make the right decision in the moment.

“That’s the only option, because that’s the moment where it counts for a customer. So, every individual needs to act that way, take the opportunity; you have your authority and do the right thing for a customer.”

Delta Cargo’s transformation programme is in part about changing attitudes, but also involves changing processes and technologies. “We need to double down on our greatest strengths,” says Joyce, identifying two key priorities: “Priority one: operational reliability of delivery, end to end, that matches the airline’s world-class on time performance metrics. Priority two: develop systems, tools and people focus to ensure that customer focus develops in all that we do, from bookings to delivery.”

He continues: “I want our customers to come to us with new business because they know we’re the best. I’m challenging my teams to ask questions and deliver ideas that will make Delta Cargo head and shoulders above our competition in service delivery. In a market that is oversaturated with capacity, if we get this right, we have a better chance that customers will bring their business to us through value creation and not just price.”

Among the planned systems changes, Delta Cargo intends to piggyback on an RFID system from the passenger side of Delta’s airline business that tracks the movement of goods throughout the journey, using proximity scanning rather than traditional barcode scanning. “We will be piloting RFID this year for Cargo, with full rollout expected next year,” says Joyce.

Other initiatives include developing a standard processes blueprint for all warehouses and the launching of a GPS tracking product for high-value cargo that allows Delta to know where the product is at any given time.

“Delta Cargo in March introduced DASH Critical & Medical, the first fully GPS-enabled, same-day product offered by a US freight carrier,” says Joyce. “The new service provides real-time tracking and monitoring of any eligible shipment, and customers can ship items up until 45 minutes prior to scheduled flight departure. We’ve tailored and developed this product around our customer needs with the highest boarding priority of any Delta Cargo product, and the fastest transit times in the logistics industry.”

He says DASH Critical & Medical is now available from ten locations nationwide, namely: Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, LaGuardia (New York), Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis, Rochester and Seattle, with service to 89 mainland US destinations and Hawaii. The company is also working to expand the programme across its domestic and international network.

“Delta’s DASH Critical & Medical offers premium domestic service for time-sensitive, small packages such as medical commodities, legal documents, essential machinery parts and ‘aircraft on the ground’ (AOG) components,” adds Joyce. “If delivery is impacted by irregular operations, such as limited flying due to bad weather, the monitoring team will proactively contact local airports to help coordinate the export, transfer and import of all DASH Critical & Medical shipments.”

Digitalisation essential

Delta Cargo is one of the world leaders in adopting IATA’s e-freight digitalisation programme, topping the US carriers in terms of network penetration levels − which have exceeded 80% since early this year. Joyce says Delta is completely committed to the effort and sees multiple benefits. Like many new developments, it has the early adopters, the followers, and the late adopters, he says, and eventually, those that aren’t using e-AWB will be at a competitive disadvantage.

“We are number one in volume and penetration among the big carriers in the US, and we continue to push the envelope,” Joyce says. “It brings operational efficiency to us and a higher degree of accuracy in documentation. It also brings improved security of the cargo shipping process as well as ensuring regulatory compliance. Through an electronic medium, we can build in checks and balances.”

He adds: “Delta is top tier in e-AWB penetration, and this year we have many initiatives that will decrease paper by making it easier for small and medium-sized customers to submit electronic air waybills, our largest customer segmentation remaining to achieve 100%. There is a heavy focus on distribution channels for e-Booking and e-AWB, and we’ll be implementing new tools that will make it easier for customers to do business with us.”

Growth markets

In terms of the growth segments, Joyce notes that both domestic and international mail continue to be a source of growth, with e-commerce driving growth in small-package shipments. Pharma, cosmetics, fresh produce, and fashion are also growing − and electronics remains strong, but is slowing down.

In terms of plans to target or improve services for any of these segments or verticals in 2017, Joyce says: “Our focus is on our innovative product and service offering as well as to listen and work with our customers and freight forwarders to make Delta Cargo much more customer-centric. We are looking at growing our Pharma offering, as well as enhancing and differentiating our DASH products to enrich our domestic offering.”

Joyce says the launch of the DASH Critical and Medical product with its GPS-enabled tracking “was important, especially as this gives the fastest transit time in the logistics industry”. He adds: “Internationally, we are testing new services that better meet the needs of our customers and we look forward to sharing more details throughout 2017.”