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In Conversation With: Thomas Schürmann, Head of Cargo Operations and Delivery at Etihad Cargo

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Etihad Cargo, the cargo and logistics arm of the Etihad Aviation Group, successfully renewed its Cargo iQ certification recently, in accordance with Cargo iQ Standards for quality management. They were awarded two supplementary stars to recognise their performance in the “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Innovative Spirit” categories. They offer and manage a variety of services from Pharma to Live Animals to Precious Cargo and much more. Strategically located at the centre of the world’s busiest trade lanes, Etihad Cargo provides an integral link to Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East via their Abu Dhabi hub. In this conversation with Thomas Schürmann, Head of Cargo Operations and Delivery at Etihad Cargo, we get to know their past, present and future.

It has been almost a decade since Etihad Cargo was bought into being. How has the journey been through all these years?

While Etihad Cargo’s history may not be as long as other airline carriers, we have achieved a great deal in a short period of time, evolving with major developments and enhancements since our establishment.

From the beginning, Etihad Cargo achieved phenomenal growth, opening new stations almost on a monthly basis and expanding its fleet with new aircraft. From its Abu Dhabi hub, our network now reaches across Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East—with routes into over 70 destinations in 45 countries. With an average aircraft lifespan of only six years, we have built one of the industry’s youngest and most efficient fleets in operation.

Since our inception in 2004, we have forged strategic partnerships with other airlines, technology solutions providers and logistics, cargo handling and transportation leaders to expand its service offering to customers. This collaborative approach has positioned us to meet the fast-evolving requirements of its global customers in the dynamic air cargo market.

But our journey has not been without its challenges. In 2008 and 2009, the global financial crisis caused a dramatic downturn in cargo volume—a result of reduced spending in the wake of the global recession. The pandemic also dealt a significant blow to the air cargo market, as borders closed and fleets were grounded. However, despite these changes at an industry level and market turbulence, Etihad Cargo has continued to grow and deliver world-class services as an air cargo partner of choice.

In 2019, Etihad Cargo represented 13% of Etihad Aviation Group’s total revenue and by 2020, this had risen to 49% due to the pandemic and air cargo playing a more crucial role. Etihad Cargo’s contribution to the group’s total revenue rose to 55% in 2021, and the carrier achieved a milestone year. Working closely with customers to address capacity demands on key trade lanes, we achieved a record tonnage of 729,200 tonnes – the highest recorded since 2017.

Our flexibility and adaptability contribute to its resilience and growth, enabling the carrier to pivot as and when required. For example, we rolled out the first passenger freighter within 24 hours of halting our passenger operations and had a full schedule within 48 hours of the pandemic breaking. Responding to the grounding of passenger flights and global travel restrictions, we temporarily modified Boeing 777 aircraft to support cabin-loaded cargo, enabling us to add capacity along key strategic routes and operate 800 chartered and scheduled flights.

What does it take for a cargo airline to secure a Cargo iQ certification, a feat you recently achieved?

As with all certifications, there are two key aspects. Firstly, you must obtain the certification. Secondly, you must maintain standards and re-certify. Etihad Cargo achieved initial Cargo iQ certification in 2018. This was a crucial step for us, as we believe Cargo iQ provides the industry with a clear, transparent, objective and validated framework, against which operational performance can be measured. This is reflected in the mutually agreed milestones along the shipment journey—agreed upon by airlines, forwarders and handling agents.

Maintaining this certification requires the full integration of Cargo iQ methodology across the entire organisation, including processes and procedures, as well as the alignment of the team’s understanding and mindset. This has been a priority for us, and something we have achieved successfully. For example, Etihad Cargo’s key performance indicator—Delivered As Promised (DAP)— is based on the Cargo iQ NFD, or consignees notified of arrival of consignment, stage of the process. Etihad Cargo uses this central indicator to measure operational performance and, above all, overall performance toward customers and customer satisfaction. We are proud that Etihad Cargo has continuously maintained a DAP performance level well above 80%, even throughout the most challenging times.

Earlier this year, Etihad Cargo successfully renewed its Cargo iQ certification in accordance with Cargo iQ Standards for quality management. This certification serves as a benchmark for Etihad Cargo in keeping its processes aligned with industry best practices for the benefit of its customers from all over the world. We also received two supplementary stars to recognise Etihad Cargo’s performance in the “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Innovative Spirit” categories over the last 12 months.

Give us an insight into the mix of your extensive network of freighters and trucks working towards delivering throughout the world.

With a dedicated fleet of Boeing 777 freighters and extensive trucking services, Etihad Cargo’s network maximises freighter capacity and enables us to deliver almost anywhere in the world.

We have several trucking networks in place globally to supplement our network of online stations to provide our customers with the most extensive coverage and options – online and offline.

Our largest networks operate in key markets across Europe, North America and, of course, our home market here in the UAE, with extensions across the entire GCC region. To illustrate the importance of trucking networks to Etihad Cargo’s operations and the scale of trucking routes, we operate 40 trucks daily just between our home base in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Multiply that by all of the countries in which Etihad Cargo operates, and you get an idea of how extensive this trucking network is and how frequently trucks are used.

We also operate smaller networks in countries such as Australia, China and India. We have handpicked road feeder service providers to offer seamless road connectivity and further enhance our operations to provide maximum coverage to our customers, wherever they are located, while maintaining robust service delivery, even at offline stations.


This is an abridged version of the original interview that was published in the May edition of the Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete article, get your copy of the magazine.

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