Congressional Air Cargo Caucus Meets to Learn About Vaccine Distribution Issues

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Congressional Air Cargo Caucus listened as the world’s top cargo carriers echoed IATA’s recent call urging governments to begin coordination now on Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

What IATA termed the “mission of the century,” is already being heeded by cargo carriers with both FedEx and UPS gearing up logistics support for pandemic-related PPEs and investment in dedicated facilities designed for the health care community.

The event was organized by Air Cargo Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Paul Mitchell (MI) and Cheri Bustos (IL). Members heard from executives at Atlas Worldwide, UPS, FedEx, DHL, ABX Air. Also speaking were Representatives Garret Graves (LA) and Sharice Davids (KS). The session was organized with the Cargo Carriers Association (CAA) which invited The Regional Air Cargo Carriers (RACCA) to listen in.

Bustos noted chicago Rockford International Airport, in her district, was the fastest growing cargo airport in the world in 2018 and growth has remained high in 2019 and 2020. “This is a true economic driver for a region like mine where a family of four makes $48,000 a year,” she said, echoing her Congressional colleagues on the importance of the cargo industry. “We need these jobs.”

Cargo Operators Urge Action in Planning for Vaccine Distribution

“Distribution is the question of the moment,” Roger Libby, EVP Corporate Public Policy, DHL Americas, told the caucus. “We are looking at the distribution of 10 billion doses globally. There are specific requirements for distribution including storage temperature requirements to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine. This is all part of what DHL is working on.”

He explained the immense task, predicting 200,000 pallets across 15,000 flights. It will not only be a global effort, but the industry must look at inbound logistics and domestic distribution.

“The development of an emergency response plan for this is critical,” he said, calling for public-private partnerships to resolve warehousing issues and IT infrastructure to measure inventory and predict demand. “The government must partner with pharmaceuticals, cargo and logistics to ensure distribution.”

All the executives urged crews get the vaccine early.

Bobbi Wells, VP-Safety and Airworthiness, FedEx, said policy makers should be thinking now about air cargo distribution pointing to the unprecedented collaboration within the industry, sharing ideas and best practices and developing better ways to meet PPE distribution requirements.

“I see a need for regulatory authorities to have the same sort of transparency and collaboration,” she told lawmakers, noting governments around the world see cargo as critical infrastructure. “We need consistent definitions and regulations to describe essential workers, simplify customs clearance and the adoption of performance-based regulatory infrastructure that makes us safe but meets our needs. The response to the crisis is limited by regulations and we need to develop contingencies ensuring we address risk while enabling distribution. Such collaboration will only make us stronger and more resilient in the future.”

Bob Boja, Director-Operations, ABXAir, agreed. “What challenged us the most was the changing and inconsistent regulations around the world that our pilots had to endure,” he said. “Rules were changing daily. The G7 worked to coordinate a statement of principles on the treatment and protection of air crews especially in China. Expanding those principles more broadly is critical. We also need better testing methods. We applaud FAA for its flexibility on training, checking and medical regulations and encourage that to continue.”

Libby indicated flexibility has been paramount throughout the pandemic especially given the drop in capacity with the grounding of passenger aircraft belly capacity. He, too, pointed to other challenges such as the differing flight restrictions, pilot restrictions, changing rules and customer procedures.

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“If governments take a prescriptive approach, it could hamper the ability to gain maximum flexibility that allows us to do our jobs,” he said.

Jim Forbes, EVP and COO, Atlas Air Worldwide, noted the role of the Congressional Air Cargo Caucus in resolving many government-to-government restrictions on serving different destinations, including lifting the cap on cargo charter flights to China and the open skies agreements that provide flexibility for overflight and landing rights.

Wells indicated FedEx flexed its networks to meet the evolving demand and that needs to happen again in vaccine distribution. The company flew 530 extra flights out of China, replacing belly cargo capacity, over and above its basic schedule.

Huston Mills, VP-Flight Operations & Safety, UPS, also called for the risk-based approach guided by collaboration with CDC and others. “We don’t want to be hindered by overly prescriptive rules,” he said. “The one-size-fits-all concept won’t cut it. We need to ensure the testing protocols, especially for pilots, is not overly invasive and we need to harmonize that worldwide to keep us moving.”

Air Cargo – Transportation Lifeline

“One thing is evident,” said Libby. “Small business is more vulnerable because they don’t have access to capital or redundant supply chains or the footprints to cope with what we have experienced. They don’t have the flexibility to engage in e-commerce strategies and pivot their operations. Small businesses are relying on air cargo to access global markets and make their businesses more resilient. They have seen how important air cargo is to health and safety, and now, for economic recovery.”

Mills reported UPS is already building on the pandemic response in place since the outset of the outbreak. “It’s going to be the cargo express industry that will be responsible for distribution both domestically and worldwide.”

A pair of Shorts Photo: Kathryn Creedy

He described facility requirements in recounting the company’s efforts. A recent press release outlined facility enhancements, saying the company has committed to building additional cooler space (2-8 degrees Celsius), and freezer space (minus-20 degrees to minus-80 degrees Celsius) in its new GMP facility in Louisville. UPS Healthcare is also expanding its GDP facility space in Hungary, and GMP space in the United Kingdom through its Polar Speed subsidiary where it operates a dispensing pharmacy that serves more than 20,000 patients daily. The new GMP warehouse and transportation hub will be located in the Midlands, UK, to further facilitate its clients’ growth needs.

“The ability of our crews, maintenance professionals and dispatchers to respond to the demand, meant we could provide assistance and the delivery of goods,” concluded Wells. “That is going to continue to be important as we now pivot to vaccine distribution and the economic recovery around the world.”

The meeting was recorded for access here (Passcode: .1.Xn7yw)

Regional operators vital to UPS operations, small communities

 

747-8F First Flight

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Few understand the critical nature of regional air cargo operations in the United States better than UPS, which delivers more than 2.7 million packages by air on an average day. The express giant relies on these partners to deliver time-sensitive shipments, including medical supplies and other life-sustaining products to local hospitals around the country. Its regional partners, most members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), also help it fulfill the demands of online shoppers who increasingly expect fast delivery for their orders.

With multiple regional carriers serving small-town and medium cities around the world, UPS has 100 gateways just in the United States in addition to hubs at Ontario, CA, Rockford, IL, Louisville, KY, Philadelphia, PA, Columbia, SC and Miami, FL. And it is working with regional carriers to ensure the next generation pilot pipeline.

“Regional cargo carriers are an important part of the UPS network,” said UPS Spokesperson Jim Mayer. “They are an important part of our network throughout the US, in less populated areas where it is impractical to use a UPS cargo jet or to ferry packages over the road. Without regional carriers, large geographic areas of the country would not have access to UPS’s express network, which offers next day delivery nationwide. Because of the distances involved, ground transportation is not a feasible alternative. In order to be delivered by the following day, the volume must go by air. Healthcare shipments to rural hospitals are an example of the critical packages carried by regional cargo carriers.”

Mayer pointed to one route that could not be served without its regional air cargo partners. “One of our longer feeder aircraft flights is Winnemucca, NV (WMC) to Ely, NV (ELY), to Salt Lake City (SLC), UT,” he said. “An express package shipped from Winnemucca would go via small feeder air carrier to Salt Lake and, depending on the final destination, would head via a UPS jet to our regional hub in Ontario for Western delivery or our Worldport hub in Louisville, for delivery to the rest of the country. WMC to SLC is 353 miles or a five-hour drive. Given the distance, it is not possible for a package shipped from Winnemucca and transported over the road to make it to SLC in time to make the connection with the UPS jet. Transportation by small feeder aircraft is the only feasible way to ensure that package is delivered overnight.”

Developing programs for the pilot pipeline

The relationship with “Big Brown” and regional carriers goes far beyond how regionals deliver for UPS, however. UPS and Ameriflight, one of the largest regional cargo carriers, recently announced their intent to expand a pilot development program put in place earlier this year. Ameriflight, along with all regional carriers, has had a difficult time staffing its pilot corps.

ameriflight-metroliner

There are two phases to the gateway program with Phase One being for UPS interns who fly for Ameriflight for a number of years and then flow back to UPS Airlines. “Phase Two of the program is for any current or future Ameriflight pilot who wants to eventually move on to UPS and much larger aircraft,” said Ameriflight CEO Brian Randow. “We feel it will be a true success in helping with the pilot shortage. Phase Two will be completed by the end of the year and pilot selection begins in January.”

The UPS-Ameriflight Pilot Gateway Program is the first in the major/regional cargo industry, and helps to address that shortage.

“Promoting pilot careers is important for the long-term health of the aviation industry, and this program is a unique strategy to help ensure highly skilled pilot staffing into the future,” Capt. Roger Quinn, UPS Airlines Director of Training.

The practice of developing pilot gateway programs has gained increasing popularity amongst regionals and the UPS/Ameriflight effort means Ameriflight pilots who successfully complete the program qualify for the guaranteed interview with UPS Airlines, subject to its hiring needs and the candidate meeting all program and hiring requirements. Ameriflight has similar arrangements with Allegiant Air, Omni Air and Frontier.

While specific details for Phase Two have yet to be completed, Phase One of the UPS/Ameriflight Gateway Program offers a path under UPS Airline’s Intern Program. After completing a UPS internship, pilots get Part 135 flying experience at Ameriflight while preparing for a potential career at UPS. Pilot candidates get the benefit of UPS mentorships with the giant freight operator’s flight-qualified management team and chief pilots.

“We are particularly excited about this partnership with UPS and the opportunity it affords us,” says Ameriflight Chief Operating Officer Bill Poerstel. “This agreement will allow us to turn UPS interns into Ameriflight pilots, ultimately helping to support UPS for years to come.”

After completing the UPS internship, pilots are eligible for employment at Ameriflight where they gain the type of experience – keeping to schedules, decision making and building hours – that airlines are looking for. Pilots who work for regional carriers are seen to be far better prepared for an airline career than those who build their hours in non-airline pursuits such as towing banners or traffic reporting.

Regional cargo operators and large integrators such as UPS have created a symbiotic relationship not only to serve the critical, life-saving needs of the medical community as well as consumers but to encourage pilot careers and ensure a steady pipeline of professional pilots into the future.

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The care and feeding of the NeXters you want to hire

By Kathryn B. Creedy

During the annual meeting of the Regional Cargo Carriers Association in Scottsdale, Dr. Mark Taylor regaled attendees about the characteristics and issues of GenXers/Millenials, how they differ from previous generations and what recruiters can do about it.

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Source: Dr. Mark Taylor

As I read over his comments, I couldn’t help but remember an old friend from the bookshelf – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The story is about a mouse who takes more and more – If you give a mouse a cookie…He’s gonna want a glass of milk….

It struck me that this might just be a way to recruit and engage potential and current employees. If there were a bottom line to Dr. Taylor’s comments is that NeXters – those born between 1987 and 2005 – it is the fact they want a mission. Give them a mission and they will focus on how they can contribute to that mission.

Understanding what makes them tick

So, what is a recruiter to do? First understand where they are coming from and the fact that we created them by insulating them from the dangers and realities we perceived in the world. We also overindulged them by giving them trophies for participation rather than achievement. This resulted in an inflated vision of their importance and their value but also created fragile egos that must now be stroked.

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NeXters have fragile egos but overinflated sense of their skills and abilities.

They are a fragile and anxious preferring technology to socialization. That means employers have to socialize them and teach them the realities and expectations of the workplace without discouraging them. They are tech oriented, used to high stimulation and multitasking but that doesn’t necessarily translate into effective contributions to the company.

The mission for regional cargo operators is to help them understand your role in the economy and how they can not only maintain that link between Amazon and a consumer’s order but deliver important medical supplies that can save lives. But that has to be laced with a healthy dose of the NeXter’s perspective which means they want to know one thing — WIIFM – what’s in it for me.

It must be understood that their number one goal is economic because their situation is compounded by high college debt. While high salaries are hard to do, companies can focus on the mission and their role.

What’s in it for them? The value of cargo carriers is they give pilots the type of experience that airlines demand. They gain schedule, PIC and leadership/decision-making experience that airlines want in their new hires. They gain the discipline and airline culture that they can’t find as a flight instructor, traffic reporter or by flying banners. Working for you makes them more marketable.

There are a few things that are important to know about the talent that is out there. The personal leadership, interpersonal skills and institutional knowledge which characterized Baby Boomers is retiring and taking everything with them. Indeed, according to Taylor, they had no one to whom they could pass it on to because GenXers didn’t want the added responsibility or commitment that came with it. That means these boomers can play an important role in mentoring the NeXters, who want to be involved in the mission.

What characterized GenXers was their work-to-live mentality compared to Baby Boomers who were all about the big picture and contributing to the success of the organization. Boomers were live-to-work but the GenXers swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. They were loath to take on responsibility much less the big picture. They also rejected President John F. Kennedy’s message – ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.

Treading carefully

Today, the NeXters, as Dr. Taylor calls them, are the Xers 2.0 and they exhibit what recruiters already know – quality of life is all important to them.

“NeXters and Millennials are same age cohort,” he said. “X came before but are not better or worse. X came up in a tough time to be a kid and tend to be adaptable pragmatic scrappers. Very direct and task oriented. My only concern is that their task orientation may not inspire NeXters at the mission level, and that they may be a little too blunt with NeXters. NeXters can do great things if properly inspired and have a great future because they are so skilled and in demand.”

NeXters are adaptable, however. They must be engaged with both important tasks and with people. They are willing to accept additional responsibility and have a healthy mix of motivations which combines what is in it for them with the willingness to contribute to the cause.

They, said Taylor, want to change the world and, because they don’t know how, it is up to employers to help them do it. He advised talking about the mission at the company level, the department level and their task level and how it all contributes to the mission.

Taylor said the most important thing is to get them involved quickly with people and meaningful tasks. Employers should also let peers establish the work expectations.

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Source: Dr. Mark Taylor

“Employers only have to train one employee,” he said. “Then that employee, who is also a peer, can train the others. It is much more effective since they might respect what the hear from someone that is like them.”

He also cautioned against rushing them ahead of their abilities but, instead, gradually increasing responsibilities. NeXters also want a positive atmosphere which is why Silicon Valley has been so successful – it creates a positive atmosphere and sees to the needs of employees that helps them be more productive.

Taylor also cautioned that criticism should be replaced with effective correction given the inflated self esteem but fragile egos these employees have. He also said employees hold the balance of power – they can quit – because they are in greater demand than ever before so these techniques are becoming increasingly important.

Employers, he advised should defer rewards like starting bonuses but that is easier said than done in today’s hiring environment. Such rewards are here to stay and must be offered to remain competitive.

He advised hiring fast because there are a lot of opportunities out there for the most qualified and in-demand applicants. Of course, operators already know that from viewing the empty seats in training classes for new hires that decided not to show up because of a better opportunity. But constant communication from the interview on could help bridge the gap between interview and reporting for duty. Each communication should emphasize the mission and their role in completing that mission. These constant touch points help to build a relationship and by extension a nascent loyalty. It helps them feel needed.

Taylor makes three main points about hiring and working with NeXters:

  • Recognize that they are less experienced with workplace structures, expectations and “authority” issues than earlier cohorts
  • They need to connect with positive people (peers and mentors) who are free with praise and encouragement, especially early
  • They need to understand and buy into the mission/purpose of the company.  How does this company make the world a better place?

He advised companies might consider something between an internship and full-time employment to help them ease into the workplace and to help the company evaluate and socialize them. Maybe half time at lower pay with a three-to six-month bonus when they go full time.

“The whole deficit of pilots and pilot students is somewhat mystifying,” he said. “I would love to fly and am getting my mind around that too few young people seem interested. What we did with STEM for a similar problem was reach back to high school or even earlier so that is something companies should consider. Develop a model to start Flying Clubs in high schools, connected with local pilots and instructors to engage and mentor prospects early.

In fact, this “reach-back” strategy is perhaps one of the most important things any aviation company can do – promote themselves in their local communities, become embedded in local schools since superintendents nationwide are now scrambling to create STEM programs that offer meaningful life experience. It is in fostering the aviation interest in the next generation that will reap the largest rewards because that close relationship will create the loyalty that otherwise may not be there.

Ameriflight sees airline workforce crisis

Pilot shortage puts break on economic growth

By Kathryn B. Creedy

What would you say about a company that had to pass on a 12% growth opportunity, which would yield 60 new, high-quality jobs? Crazy, right?

Well, this is the case for Ameriflight, which is suffering the worst pilot shortage in its history. Without enough pilots, it is unable to grow its business for its major customers, which include FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Dallas-based airline Ameriflight is an illustration of what ails a critical part of our economic infrastructure, the cargo industry — specifically the small-package cargo delivery systems that connect consumers with their online orders and the medical community with life-saving medicines that cannot be shipped by ground. In fact, it is likely that that package you ordered online may not get there as fast as it does now.ameriflight-logo-fathead-high-res-transparent“I see air cargo continuing to grow which will significantly increase demand for additional lift,” said President and CEO Brian Randow. “We are constantly asked to do more, and are watching very closely as Amazon adds a fleet of 40 new 767 cargoliners to the industry. As online shopping continues to grow, more and more overnight demand will be needed. Additionally, the U.S. economy is starting to see positive growth driving demand for air cargo up. The problem is there aren’t enough pilots to meet the demand.”

Why it matters

So what if small package and regional airlines can’t find captains and first officers to pilot their planes? That means that, without pilots for such airlines as Ameriflight and the rest of its brethren in the regional air cargo industry, air cargo cannot expand even as online ordering is exploding. It means that some communities will be out of reach of the long arm of package delivery services.

An acute pilot shortage has already meant more than 30 communities have lost their connection to the global air service with the resulting negative impact on their economies. And, it means that both regional passenger and cargo carriers have to turn away business because they simply cannot find pilots.

It won’t stop there, however, because experts expect U.S. low cost and major airlines will have to stymie their growth plans for the same reason, putting a considerable break on the overall economic growth. Delta’s recent pronouncement that it may hire 25,000 pilots is laughable since there are only about 18,000 pilots in the entire regional airline industry from which they get many of their pilots.

“We had the opportunity to bid on 15 new routes in the last year,” said Randow. “But we had to turn down the bidding. Those new routes would have meant a 12% increase in business and hiring 20 pilots, 30 aviation maintenance technicians and 10 line service and administrative personnel.”

“We’ve been short pilots for the past year,” he continued. “We’ve been forced to turn away new business, and get very creative in finding ways to cover our existing business. Our studies suggest that a pilot looking for a new flying job gets four offers before accepting one. We hold new-hire classes each month. For those classes, 25% of the pilots that accept a position do not show up. When we ask them why, they tell us they got another offer that they liked more.”

Pay no longer an issue

Ameriflight is one of the largest members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), employing 450 full time and 90 part-time and temporary staff while its 163 aircraft fly nearly 80,000 flights annually.

Some say the problem is pay but that’s baloney. New-hire salaries average above $60,000 annually in the regional industry. This is a new phenomenon as federal regulations have severed the pipeline between fledgling pilots and professional flying jobs. In fact, regional airlines are rivaling their major-carrier counterparts in the double-digit percentage increases in pilot pay during the latest pilot contract cycle.

Surprisingly for such a high-tech, high-skill profession, pilots are paid by the hour. Today, new-hire regional pilots are averaging between $40 and $80 per hour, according to Airline Pilot Central. That rate would be the envy of many middle class workers.

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Ameriflight, like many airlines, is boosting pay by 30%, expanding signing bonuses and offering $20,000 retention bonuses. Its starting salary for new hires may be $44,000 but, with bonuses and credits, salaries average $55,000 to start a career that has the potential to pay over $200,000 annually. And, pilots only have 80 hours of flying duty per month with major carriers.

Ameriflight created a world-class recruiting department, expanding from a single recruiter to a seven-person department focusing on providing opportunities for students at its 10 partner schools.

It created the Ameriflight Pulling for the Future Scholarship Program in 2016 and awarded $21,500, providing much needed funding for students.

It has established new flow-through agreements with Omni Air, Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines through which pilots can not only be hired by Ameriflight but be streamlined to airline partners when they are ready. Ameriflight is now working closely with current customers to develop new flow-through programs that have already seen pilots move to the major cargo carriers.

Pilots demand better quality of life 

But pay is not the only consideration for would-be pilots. In a significant departure from previous generations, pilots worry as much about quality of life as they do about pay, which has resulted in a seismic shift in employment policies at airlines.

“Quality of life basically means days off and the ability to live in the place of their choosing,” said Randow. “Our goal is to get to a pilot schedule that is four days on and three days off each week. We are working with our partners to create schedules that are four-day work weeks based on flight schedules that operate Monday afternoon to Friday morning giving the pilot Friday afternoon to Monday morning off.”

Randow, however, is not standing still. Last year, in an effort to centralize operations in the middle of the country, Ameriflight completed its move from Burbank, CA, to Dallas.

“Our focus in 2016 was to increase safety performance, improve employee satisfaction, define and improve how we do business and upgrade the tools we use,” Randow said, adding the company could not have accomplished what it did without strong support from its major customers. “We invested over $1 million in a new pilot training program, redefined our pilot work rules, and either promoted from within or brought on new leadership in many key positions. This is a new Ameriflight positioned to succeed in these very challenging times.”

The millions who shop online do not think about the cargo industry, despite the fact it moves $5.7 trillion worth of goods worldwide ever year. That is 35% of the world trade by value, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Consumers take for granted that the order they placed last night will arrive in a couple of days. But the growing shortage of pilots puts all that in jeopardy.