As you walk through the cargo complex of the GVK Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) the only expression you would have is one of absolute wonder. For the record, in the year 2014-15, CSIA handled 694,261 tonnes of cargo and for the month of October, the airport handled 60,336 tonnes of cargo. What you see may be chaotic but apparently there is order; to some extent perfect. The buzzing cargo complex, a combination of make-shift sheds to highly sophisticated warehouses, is indeed a true representation of the peculiar characteristics of the city that Mumbai is. Amidst the cacophony, we meet the man in charge of the cargo division of the airport. Manoj Singh, Vice President & Head of Cargo & Express at GVK MIAL in a conversation with Lionel Alva and Reji John. Excerpts from an exclusive interview.
How has the year 2015 been for the cargo division of CSIA? What are the critical factors impacting volumes for air freight market in international and domestic segments?
Indian exports remain uncertain due to weak global demand and particularly due to slowness in intra-Asia trade. However pharmaceutical exports and imports at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) continue to rise despite market turbulence. The growth of pharma cargo has been massive in the last five years. As per independent reports, the export of merchandise from India registered its ninth straight month of decline in October 2015. We do not see this as a long-term trend and anticipate the volumes to pick up from the next fiscal year. Import volumes at CSIA have been impressive compared to the previous year. We are currently almost five percent up on last year in terms of international cargo volumes.
Strong competition from road and rail transport has been impacting domestic air freight. Road and rail services have demonstrated significant improvement in turnaround times over the years and have been highly successful in attracting a portion of air freight. We would say that the growth of e-commerce in the last two years has sustained domestic air freight volumes. We anticipate more growth from this segment in the coming years.
How has the rapidly growing e-commerce sector impacted freight volumes for domestic air cargo?
At CSIA, domestic volumes have seen a robust 15 percent growth year-on-year in FY 2014-15 and the volumes continue to perform well in the current financial year. This is largely due to rising e-commerce business. The domestic air freight is moving positive due to this segment despite heavy competition from road and rail transport.
What is the progress of the MIAL’s cargo master plan and by when do you think you will be able to complete a major portion of this master plan?
The implementation is in line with our planning. We are near 50 percent of what is set for the cargo master plan. The master plan encompasses completed projects like the Export Perishable Terminal, the Import Cold Zone, the Export Unitisation Terminal and upcoming projects like the Export Heavy and Bonded Cargo Terminal, the Domestic Common User Terminal as well as future projects like the expansion of the Export Perishable Terminal and the relocation of Air India to a new facility. We are thankful to the stakeholders and regulators for the support they have extended in this regard.
Give us a sense of the plans you have to modernise the Mumbai air cargo terminal and what is the status of the Domestic Common User Terminal under construction?
GVK Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) is creating a state-of-the-art domestic common user terminal through its concessionaire M/s Concor Air Limited on a ‘Build, Operate and Transfer model’ to cater to the growing domestic air cargo business at CSIA. The facility is in the final stage of completion and will be operational by end of January 2016. It will comprise of high-tech infrastructure like truck docks with dock levelers, a dedicated cargo management system, special handling facilities for perishable, dangerous and vulnerable goods, as well as comprehensive security infrastructure including 24X7 CCTV surveillance and facilities for domestic stakeholders.
What is the update on the export heavy and bonded cargo terminal that is under construction for some time?
Export Heavy and Bonded Cargo Terminal is a state-of the-art facility by MIAL for handling of export heavy and odd size cargo along with bonded cargo received from the hinterlands. The facility is under final stage of construction and is expected to be commissioned by end of January 2016. The facility comprises of high-tech infrastructure like truck docks with dock levelers, X-Ray machines, dedicated material handling equipment, 24×7 CCTV surveillance, a palletisation area and office space for customs functions. It will complement the offshore cargo facilities planned by us near potential manufacturing locations.
Could you tell us something about your recent technological initiatives that you have undertaken at the airport?
GVK MIAL launched the country’s first air cargo community portal, GMAX, in the year 2013. We are currently working on extending this robust platform to regulators, exporters and importers with complete transparency into air freight operations and with tracking up to destination. GVK is in the process of creating a mobile app for real-time cargo status and automated token system for vehicle management.
We have added X-Ray machines including dual view, CCTV cameras and explosive trace detectors to our security infrastructure. We upgraded our cargo management system to ‘Ground Handling Application’, which made CSIA a c2k-compliant cargo station.
Being the leading air cargo hub in the country, could you highlight some of the best practices that your airport has undertaken?
GVK Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) has always focused on optimum capacity and asset utilisation along with a premium product offering for our stakeholders. We have increased the capabilities of our cargo management system over the years and we set the benchmark for Indian airports in terms of e-freight initiatives.
MIAL is first airport operator in the country to introduce an air cargo community portal – GMAX (GVK MIAL Air Exchange) to bring efficiency and reduce dwell time in the air cargo supply chain. When we say air cargo supply chain, we mean to say that GMAX is a web-based community portal with a wide product range and applications designed to provide electronic interface to the air cargo community beyond cargo terminal functions. We continue to provide the right level of IT services to our customers.
MIAL continues to be the best in India in terms of import flight checking with consistent performance of ATA+5.30 hrs. for freighters and ATA+3.30 hrs. for passenger aircrafts. The service is being performed with very minimal document requirement.
What is your view on the e-freight initiatives? What targets have you set in terms of e-airway bill implementation?
GVK MIAL is now rated e-freight compliant by IATA. In its first phase, the GMAX web portal with a wide range of facilities has been successfully introduced and integrated with the MIAL cargo management system. The capability of our cargo management system has been enhanced to receive/trigger electronic messages from all the stakeholders.
MIAL has been taking a lead in India to initiate various e-freight initiatives. This has led to process rationalisation, customer facilitation and ease of doing business. We introduced e-reception of export cargo in the year 2009, followed by elimination of hard copies of Master Airway Bills at export cargo acceptance and import flight checking in the year 2012. We did away with the MAWB/HAWB/House manifest copies in the year 2014 by facilitating electronic FWB & FHL messages from airlines, which were also successfully integrated with the Customs EDI platform. We were the first airport in India to do away with the hard copy of the delivery order at the time of generation of the import consignment delivery permit.
The above initiatives have significantly minimised the operational dwell times of export cargo processing, import cargo segregation and delivery. We received exceptional support and active participation from airlines and stakeholders in this remarkable achievement.
In the next phase, electronic cargo security declaration (e-csd) and digitisation of regulatory requirements is under trial. Besides being a comprehensive e-freight solution, GMAX is a potential air cargo tool that can help MIAL to bring efficiency, reduce dwell times, facilitate real-time updates and reduce transaction cost.
We are doing everything possible to support the ‘Digital India’ initiative of the Government of India. I strongly believe that any good initiative by airport operators will be accepted by the trade fraternity so as to take the Indian air cargo industry forward to match and comply with global standards.
With the IATA CEIV workshop held in Mumbai in partnership with Cargo Service Center (CSC), how aggressive are you to have MIAL as the first IATA CEIV certified pharmaceutical freight hub in India and the third airport in the world?
Pharmaceutical cargo has been our core commodity both in exports and imports. We have enhanced our cold chain capacity over the last four years to cater to this potential product. We think this is an area of our business that will continue to grow. MIAL has announced formation of a “Pharmaceutical Core Committee” during the CEIV workshop. We are in the process of forming the core group. The objective of this group is to improve the standards of the pharmaceutical air cargo supply chain. CEIV certification will definitely be one of the key action points.
How do you envisage the future of the air cargo market in India?
It is possible that we may see growth of 5-6 percent over the coming years with pharma cargo as the key driver.
As the head of cargo at MIAL what is your vision for the cargo division of the airport?
There are several: 100 percent e-freight compliance throughout the airport cargo transactions; India’s biggest air cargo hub with robust EDI and multimodal connectivity; Mumbai as Asia’s biggest trade lane for pharmaceutical export-import business; Potential transshipment hub on the global map; Industry-leading operational excellence; Customer-driven product handling.
Given that you are pitched against other airports in the country that have an inherent advantage of huge space and other infrastructure, how do you keep the competition tough and do you think you are ahead in the race?
We would say our objective is to strengthen our airport in all aspects. In this endeavour we aim to be first in the country for any new initiative or innovation. Space has been a major challenge for Mumbai airport but we have surmounted this disadvantage through process efficiency and strategic planning. MIAL has been at the forefront in supporting the 24×7 e-trade and skill-development initiatives of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) and the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC). MIAL has actively participated in the skill-development initiative by developing the ‘Basic Cargo Awareness Programme’, which was formally approved by MOCA. We are in the process of launching this training programme in Mumbai for the benefit of the cargo trade. In this regard, we request all the air cargo stakeholders to adopt these initiatives so as to help airport operators handle air cargo more effectively.