Word up from Jason Berry, Air Canada Vice President of Cargo that
the airline in a standout move was breaking away from every other North
American combination carrier by adding all cargo B767 freighters to the
fleet as fast as the carrier can convert them, quickens the heart of every
true air cargo executive.
Imagination, commitment and a roadmap for
change are the watchwords at Air Canada Cargo.
As 2021 continues and the world emerges
from the COVID-19 hangover, the carrier is a global standout, having launched
more that 9,000 cargo flights during the pandemic that in no small measure
has driven change and broadened thinking about the future of air cargo
at Air Canada.
Berry, who exudes an energetic youthful
vigor, in fact, has more than 25 years of cargo experience in the aviation
industry, having held leadership roles in commercial and operational capacities
at Alaska Airlines, Cargolux Airlines, Menzies Aviation and McGee Air
He learned air cargo from the ground up
entering the industry in 1995 as a warehouse agent at Cargolux.
But Jason was a quick read at the carrier,
moving on to leadership positions in operations.
Berry joined Alaska Airlines in 2013 and
that move accelerated his career into the stratosphere as Managing Director,
Cargo before his next move to President of McGee Air Services, a wholly
owned ground handling subsidiary of Alaska Airlines.
So now with its first freighter due to arrive
sometime early in Q4 of 2021, we thought the man carrying the responsibility
to make the future Air Canada Cargo plan work might share some insights
and industry views, as his mighty all-cargo fleet is building.
Sometimes you might view a story like this
as “a view from the top,” but wait a minute.
Here we have an executive who is also a
proven handling specialist, so in a switcheroo of sorts we asked some
basic human questions and were pleased that Jason
without blinking joined us and offered a view of air cargo from the ground
FT: What is the best story you have experienced
or have heard during the past fourteen year and a half months during the
have been so many, it’s difficult to choose! Soon after I started
at Air Canada, on February 12, our 5,000th cargo-only flight landed in
Shanghai with a full load of live lobster. AC2283 left Toronto with a
total of nearly 34,000 kilos of freight on board, all the more memorable
because it was Lunar New Year, and Canadian lobsters arrived just in time
for celebrations. That flight stands out because Air Canada only started
operating cargo-only flights at the start of the pandemic, and here we
had hit the 5,000th one already. There was also a particular significance
in that handling large shipments of live lobster is a complex, sensitive
operation. These were loaded in Halifax, Nova Scotia on a cargo-only flight
and flown to Toronto to connect with the flight to PVG. Our teams in Halifax
and Toronto did an exceptional job—the tremendous skill and effort
that they put in to every one of these flights, from the moment that we
first connect with the customer to the day of the operation, is remarkable.
Additionally, PVG played a critical role
at the start of the pandemic, as we transported PPE and medical supplies
on cargo-only fights from there at a time when air capacity had been hit
hard, and there was a dire need for the supplies. Since the very early
stages of the pandemic, the dedication of our team in Asia, particularly
PVG, went beyond expectations, adapting to our schedule and the increased
number of cargo-only flights out of this region.
It’s very fitting that we celebrated
the 5,000 cargo-only flight by landing in PVG, on New Year’s Day,
with a belly full of Canadian lobster. The return flight departed the
next day carrying face masks for redistribution in various Canadian cities.
What as a professional transportation executive are you most proud of
during this time?
Similar to other significant events such
as 9/11 or the financial crisis, the speed at which the pandemic changed
our business only reinforced the importance of remaining laser-focused
on doing everything possible to support our people and the communities
we serve by keeping them safe and providing continued access to essential
goods via air. The collaboration and creativity across branches has been
one of the most defining moments for Air Canada and key for our ability
carry through with our mission amidst the distractions of COVID-19.
What are you most looking forward to doing both
business and personally as restrictions ease and COVID finally recedes?
joined Air Canada in the midst of the pandemic, I’ve been extremely
limited in my ability to visit our teams. I’m most looking forward
to getting out and traveling to see our employees and the customers that
support us across the globe.
do you expect that will be?
hopeful that some level of business travel will begin now and through
the remainder of the year.
have you changed? Look at your life before, during and after the pandemic
global aviation brought to its knees was a humbling experience. We were
powerless to much of what was transpiring around us. The pandemic has
been a test of resilience and a reminder that we must focus on what we
you at all or just a bit fatigued of zoom, webinar and other web-driven
contact? Or will you make that medium a go to form of contact and communication?
If answering yes how much face to face? Or wait and see how you feel?
conference calls have become the standard form of communication during
lockdown. There are things to be learned from the “virtual”
experience and it has proven to been a powerful tool to connect continents,
however, in my opinion it can never fully replace in-person meetings and
the connections those interactions create. I look forward to collaborating
with colleagues and business partners face-to-face again soon.
FT: In all
your contact and communications what has happened or have you experienced
that impacted and impressed you the most?
JB: We often
talk about forging partnerships in our business and how critical good
communication is. The most impressive and impactful experience has been
watching partnerships springing to life in new ways we may have never
imagined, delivering vaccines, life-saving equipment, and PPE to those
in need across the globe.
your freighter announcement is big news, (congratulations) . .
. how else will Air Canada Cargo emerge during the rest of 2021?
thrilled to be sharing the news of our new freighter routes, however we
must keep our eye on the ball and continue to support our customers through
the entirety of this complex business cycle. We still have a job to do
and it requires a full effort from our entire team to help keep the tenuous
supply chain intact.
you feel the respect and encouragement for cargo based on performance?
Name the highs of course but also what can we all do better?
been passionate about air cargo my whole life, so it’s incredible
to see our industry be recognized on a global stage and viewed in this
new light. That being said, I look forward to the day when our colleagues
on the passenger side of the house are back to full force—that will
mean our world is regaining balance and we can hopefully say the worst
is finally behind us. We have learned many impactful lessons during COVID.
As proud as I am for what air cargo has meant to the industry, it is a
small story in the grand scheme of things. We’ve witnessed nations
come together to battle a pandemic, social injustices openly addressed
and concrete actions around equality are being raised. We still have a
lot of work to do, but this is what’s most encouraging from my perspective.
has air cargo shown during the pandemic and should there be an industry
wide campaign to advance air cargo to targeted industries or some other
form of coordinated effort led by FIATA, IATA, CNS or even alliance partners?
If so what would be the message?
JB: Air cargo
is and will remain a key piece of the supply chain puzzle. The symbiotic
relationship between passenger belly space and main deck freighter capacity
cannot be underestimated. There is a place for both today and into the
future. The key will be to find ways to best leverage these modes to efficiently
and effectively support the logistics supply chain. This includes delivering
on global initiatives such as digitalization that improve the speed of
FT: Is Air
Canada participating in any trade shows during 2021? Which ones?
JB: We are
working with our regional sales teams to see whether we will participate
in tradeshows as they come up.
what would you tell a young man or woman entering air cargo right now,
knowing what has happened during the past 14 months, in addition to your
JB: Air cargo
is not for the faint of heart and this year is no exception, yet it can
be some of the most rewarding work you will ever have the opportunity
to be a part of. While it may not be directly visible, the freight in
our warehouses and on our aircraft have a face and a name that depend
on us to deliver. Being a vital part of the world’s supply chain
provides you with the opportunity to touch endless people’s lives
where no day is the same.