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   Vol. 23 No. 16
Wednesday April 10, 2024

Greg Schwendinger Cycling To The Sky

Greg Schwendinger

     Greg Schwendinger is President of American Airlines Cargo, where he oversees one of the largest air cargo networks in the world. Greg re-joined American in fall 2022 after leading the Finance team at health services provider AccentCare during a period of transformation and growth, but he had already spent 15 years in American Airlines previously after his MBA at Rice University.
     Greg is currently an elected member of the International Air Transport Association Cargo Advisory Council, where he serves as an advisor to governing bodies on all air cargo industry issues. As a young and accomplished personality, Greg does not limit himself to his business, but is also an active member of the Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association, which helps maintain access to more than 200 miles of recreational biking and hiking trails in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

     Considering American Airlines’ role in the greatest logistics operation of all times, i.e. the deployment of COVID vaccines all over the world, it was quite natural that this was the starting point in our conversation with Greg. Greg was happy to share his views on this point: “Participating in the Covid-19 vaccine distribution on behalf of the U.S. Government as part of Operation Warp Speed was significant. To play a part in something so critical at a time when there was so much unknown will go down in history for us. The team did a great job stepping up, as did the industry, during that particular time of need to ensure people were connected as quickly as possible with pharmaceuticals that could save lives. Launching the cargo-only flying program is also something our team members look back on fondly. Not only did it allow us to continue to move critical shipments across the world during the early part of the network, but the program also provided the foundation for American to restart passenger service to a number of key markets. The initiative required a huge amount of collaboration across the entire airline, which has only helped us work better together since then.
     “COVID absolutely helped bring to light the importance of the air cargo industry. Within the airline, that recognition has been positive, and Cargo certainly has an increased focus and influence on the business as a result. From a customer perspective, we feel confident in the relationships we have built and are always looking for ways to strengthen them. Whether through product enhancements, shipping experience, technology opportunities, you name it, we are open to hearing how we can provide better solutions and ultimately serve our customers even more.”
     FT expressed its appreciation for the airline’s image and the unforgettable contribution to the mission. Greg’s willingness to share his experience in those crucial months inevitably led us to talk about his role in the company on a variety of topics: “We are excited for the road that lies ahead in 2024 for many reasons, but one in particular is due to the moderation and stabilization we began to see in the marketplace in late 2023. I was proud of how we closed out the year, particularly around the holiday peak, and am pleased to see economies getting inflation under control – which should lead to easing monetary policy and the possibility for increased consumer demand in many of the regions where we operate. I am optimistic about 2024, both here in American and for the cargo industry as a whole.”
     From this statement we can easily connect Greg’s full appreciation of finance’s importance, which is in line with his experience and education, but we can also understand that his perception of the industry comes from a very deep hands-on approach: “The industry is well on its way, but there is still work to do in terms of modernization through technology. Wherever we can more seamlessly work together and communicate along the supply chain, the better, and digitization is a big piece of that. I am encouraged by the efforts IATA is taking to lead the industry in adoption of ONE Record as a standard for data sharing to create a single record view of a shipment, and American looks forward to playing a leading role in pushing forward this standard as well.”
     Definitely right, we could say, and if we can add a personal comment, it is noteworthy that this push toward greater harmonization comes directly from an airline. We all know embracing common standards has not been the aspect of business where airlines traditionally excelled.

     Greg continued his conversation mentioning the technology that needs to be adopted for the industry to thrive: “While I can’t predict the future, I can say our teams are dedicated to some really impactful projects this year. Operational excellence and Customer Experience are at the core of our priorities in 2024, and a lot of that work will be supported by digital tools and enhancements to our existing digital platforms. Things like Robotics Process Automation (RPA) and Machine Learning are enabling our teams to be more efficient and utilize predictive modeling to mitigate challenges that may arise when a shipment is in our care. For example, we are able to use RPA to automatically accept bookings that fall within certain parameters at time of booking, to optimize shipments utilizing our trucking network as well as to remove resources affiliated with deactivated customer accounts. We are using Machine Learning to help us improve our capacity forecasts and reduce issues related to under and over booking. The added benefit is that we free up our team members to focus on more complex solutions.”
     In 2024 it is nearly impossible to talk technology without inviting AI and machine learning on the stage. The natural following subject was concerning AI’s impact on AA Cargo’s operations, now and in future: “Everyone is very excited about the Art of the Possible when it comes to AI technologies. We are all starting to experience the impact in our daily lives as we interact with companies and participate in various markets as consumers. We should also expect solutions to emerge in the B2B space that helps improve the customer experience, drives optimization, and ultimately unleashes an entirely new era of innovation. Most exciting is AI's ability to anticipate a customer’s needs and proactively meet those needs, but also GenAI's ability to then produce relevant content and solutions beyond the immediate ask. At American, we are certainly interested in how the technology evolves and how we can leverage these tools to deliver for customers, as well as our own team members. We have a couple of use cases GenAI lends itself to as a perfect solution that we intend to explore in 2024, and we look forward to sharing more in due time.
     AI could also play a role in the sustainability agenda. Surely sustainability is equally big in Greg’s employment equation: “I think having a plan for taking real action to improve Sustainability is crucial, and I do believe we have seen real progress. At the airline level, we have continued to invest in a dedicated team focused on helping us achieve our goal of net zero by 2025 with realistic milestones and investments along the way. For example:
       American has commitments covering more than 620 million gallons of SAF from 2025–2030. In 2022, we used more than 2.5 million gallons of SAF and were one of the few airlines to report using more than 1 million gallons during the year.
       SAF production will take the combined efforts of the private and public sectors. One way American is helping advance those efforts is as an anchor partner of Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, a groundbreaking program within the larger Breakthrough Energy network that is working to accelerate the development and commercialization of critical technologies for decarbonization, including SAF.
       As part of our goal to source 2.5 million gigajoules (GJs) of cost competitive renewable energy to power our operations by 2025, we purchased more than 644,000 GJs of electricity from renewable sources for our headquarters facilities and operations at DFW in 2022. Since then, these facilities have been 100% powered by renewable energy.
     “As part of the airline initiative, our cargo business falls under the same goals, but we also have made strides of our own – for example, our continued partnership with BioNatur Plastics (by M&G Packaging) utilizing biodegradable products in our operation. In 2023, we were able to reduce long-term plastic waste by more than 150,000 lbs, the equivalent of 8.6 million water bottles.” In a period when we discover that micro plastics are starting to clot our arteries and start presenting serious problems for our health, these are statements that we register with particular satisfaction.

     At this point it was impossible to avoid a straight question on the business, considering our sources have told us that American connects New York (JFK) and Tokyo (HND) as the only U.S. carrier operating nonstop service this summer beginning June 28, as an addition to the existing daily service from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and two daily flights from Los Angeles (LAX). Greg observed: “We are really excited about the launch of the new JFK-HND service in June! We will be offering cargo capacity on the flight and are excited about the opportunity this provides for our customers.” Even more exciting from our point of view that this does not detract from the existing capacity from other airports, which is a clear symptom that something is going in the right direction here.
     We cannot close this meeting without a couple of personal comments that we gladly received from our friend Greg: we asked him about the people he admired over the years, as we believe this is a way to open windows in different areas of human interaction that a straight business interview does not authorize. “When I was young,” said Greg “I met Muhammed Ali while flying through IAH, and at my father’s encouragement had the chance to speak with him as well as to get his autograph. I didn’t know at the time of his legacy as an Olympic and World Champion boxer nor as an activist, humanitarian and philanthropist, but the man I met that day was a patient and caring person with an undeniable aura and presence surrounding him, who was happy to spend time with my younger brother and me in the airport. In the autograph he carefully crafted for me he wrote a passage, ‘Service to others is the rent we pay for our place in heaven’. This passage has stuck with me as I learned more about the man he was as I grew up. The passage inspires me to continue to work to be the best servant leader I can be to my team, family and community just like he was to his.”
     This window is open to human and caring considerations, well in line with Greg’s approach to HR: “I’m grateful to have such a wonderful team to lead – many of our team members have been in Cargo for most of their career, and I think that’s a testament to the passion our team has for the business and to the kind of culture we have. While I was new to Cargo when I joined as President in 2022, I had worked alongside the Cargo business and many of the team members during my career with American and was able to see, even from afar, the exciting work the teams were doing. The air cargo industry plays a significant role in keeping the world connected and knowing that mission is at the core of all we do and how we serve our customers makes it that much more meaningful.”
     So, this comes to mind as a meaningful conversation with a solid, considerate personality, somebody who has taken his job seriously and – from a position of upper management – has not abandoned the idea of keeping the line of excitement constant, with a 360° engagement.
     FT is grateful to Greg Schwendinger for his time and for the inspiring comments he wished to share with us on his challenging work.

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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Access specific articles by clicking on article title
FT031924Vol. 23 No. 13
Face To Face East Side/West Side
Chuckles for March 19, 2024
I Got The Horse Right Here
On The Road Again
An Education In Many Languages
Letter From Brandon Fried
Vol. 23 No. 14
Going Dutch With Delta Cargo
Chuckles for March 26, 2024
United Campfire Gathering
Donna Mullins Thoughtful
Four For Why CNS Matters

Vol. 23 No. 15
Eppur Si Muove
Chuckles for April 4, 2024
MSC Brings It Home In USA
IAG Cargo India Growth Spotlight
Maersk Sustainability Future

Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend • Editor Emeritus-Richard Malkin
European Editor-Marco Sorgetti • Special Commentaries Editor-Bob Rogers • Special Assignments-Sabiha Arend, Emily Arend
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