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For a rapidly expanding low-cost carrier, Pegasus Airlines is unusually serious about cargo, reports Mike Bryan

Unlike the majority of low-cost carriers (LCCs) around the world, Pegasus Airlines takes cargo very seriously, underlining its commitment to air freight by organising and co-hosting an annual international transport and logistics conference in Istanbul for the past four years.

Flying for more than 20 years and operating scheduled flights since 2005, Pegasus is the second-largest airline in Turkey, flying scheduled services to 33 domestic destinations and 64 internationally, with a total network of 97 destinations in 38 countries from its hub at Istanbul’s second international airport, Sabiha Gökçen (SAW).

While not currently competing with the major global network carriers in the wide-body, intercontinental air freight market, Pegasus Cargo offers freight capacity that links an interesting and rapidly expanding network of origin and destination points spanning from Almaty and Bishkek in the east to Madrid and London in the west, taking in most of Europe’s major administrative and commercial capitals in between, via the airline’s fleet of B737-800s and A320s. And as befits a regional player based in Istanbul, the network also connects important and emerging cargo markets in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, including Tel Aviv, Beirut, Erbil, Baghdad, Kuwait, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, and Teheran – plus, of course, its domestic network and market in Turkey.

In 2015 Pegasus added Baghdad, London Gatwick, Lyon, Oslo, and Milan Malpensa to its international cargo network; and Kars, Kastamonu, and Ordu-Giresun to its Turkish domestic cargo routes.

Having placed the largest single commercial aircraft order by an airline in Turkey in late 2012, with firm orders for 57 Airbus A320neo and 18 A321neo models, this rapid growth is set to continue. “We aim to continue our expansion in Europe, the Caucasus, Russia, the CIS countries and the Middle East,” explains Aydin Alpa, vice president of cargo at Pegasus. “And of course this expansion has had a very positive effect on our cargo operations, allowing us to achieve our annual cargo sales targets.” New destinations will be added as and when permissions are received from the relevant civil aviation authorities, Alpa observes.

Such a rapid expansion of an airline’s operation can, potentially, have an adverse impact on the quality of its cargo services, although that has not been the case at Pegasus, Alpa maintains. “Our cargo management and cargo staff are very young, ambitious, and service-oriented,” he says. But also Pegasus Cargo strictly monitors the quality of the carrier’s partners, both at home and abroad, he adds. “We are constantly auditing our overseas cargo handling companies and other service providers to ensure that our quality of service is always at the highest levels,” Alpa says. “We rate the quality of our cargo handlers by performing annual audits in compliance with local and international standards as regulated by the Turkish Directorate of General Civil Aviation. We carry out spot checks and audits, fill out an annual basis Supplier Assessment Form and monitor incident/occurrences data – which is collected via the reports and entered into our aviation quality database system.”

The carrier also analyses the results on a monthly basis. “And, depending on the outcomes, meetings are either held spontaneously or monthly, at which major and minor impacts are discussed,” he adds. “In cases where immediate clarification is required, we request corrective or preventative action plans, together with root-cause analysis in order to avoid reoccurrence of any issues and improve operational standards. We also ensure the meeting of our standards by our ground handlers with service level agreements.”

He says having strong and well-structured relationships with airport authorities and handling service providers across its entire network have helped support its growth. “We regard them as our business partners that keep our business developing all the time,” Alpa continues.

The process of appointing a cargo handler at a new station is also rigorous. “Our strategy is that we initially ask our local cargo general sales agents about their experiences with these companies. Once we have this information, we have our quality division do an audit, along with our cargo operations management team, in order to eliminate the companies that we don’t feel are adequate for our cargo handling model,” Alpa says.

“From there on, we look at the cost and quality of the companies we are considering and eventually make our decision.” He says Pegasus Cargo employs this process for both its multi-station cargo handling agreements and individual station arrangements.

Çelebi Ground Handling has been Pegasus Cargo’s service provider at Sabiha Gökçen Airport since December 2011, although changes lie ahead at its home base. Pegasus Airlines is preparing to soon start handling its own ground operations and – within the scope of its overall handling operations – “we will not only handle our own ramp services, but also provide cargo handling services to our aircraft”, Alpa says.

Although the cargo warehouse at Sabiha Gökçen Airport will continue to be operated by another service provider, the cargo handling staff will be Pegasus Cargo’s own, Alpa explains. For the time being, this desire for Pegasus Cargo to handle cargo itself is limited to Sabiha Gökçen.

Located 35 km southeast of central Istanbul on the Anatolian or Asian side of the city, Sabiha Gökçen is far smaller in both passenger and cargo terms than its congested neighbour Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) on the other side of the Bosphorus. But its position somewhat removed from the often-gridlocked city of Istanbul gives Sabiha Gökçen, to some extent, the benefit of its own air cargo catchment area, something that has helped support Pegasus Cargo’s business.

“One of the main advantages of operating at Sabiha Gökçen Airport is that because there are lots of factories and cities which produce textiles and spare parts near to Sabiha Gökçen, we save time and costs for them by transporting the products to or from the much-nearer SAW instead of Atatürk Airport,” says Alpa.