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   Vol. 23 No. 22
Monday May 6, 2024

Remembering Bruce McCaffrey

     “The air cargo price fixing saga of 2005 was a gas. A mellifluous, malodorous episode in the history of air cargo.”

Bruce McCaffrey     A story without a happy ending is recalled in 2024 as we mark ten years since Bruce McCaffrey died February 25, 2014 at age 71 in Bradenton, Florida, from complications of renal failure.
     Bruce worked at Qantas Freight for 26 years and was among the first people to be caught up and convicted in the air cargo price fix scandals that began in. 2005.
     Last time I saw him he was awaiting the start of a six-month sentence, but since he had recently had a kidney transplant, the feds were giving him time to recover.
     Bruce McCaffrey attended Harvard Business School and the UCLA Executive Program in Business, and, like many of us 70-somethings who love America, was a fellow veteran who also served during the Vietnam War as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot and infantry officer.
     After the war he joined National Airlines, then Pan American, and then Qantas Freight USA, where he served for 26 years as Vice President of Freight for North and South America.

Bruce Was A Straight Arrow

      I knew Bruce when he was out in Valley Stream (a community near JFK International) after he had succeeded Gil Philaba—and later George Stark—as boss of Qantas Cargo USA.
     He was always by the book and although a bit distant, he radiated interest in airline history; like me, and as mentioned was a veteran of Vietnam, so we always found some talking points aside from business.
     I also knew him when Qantas threw him under the bus.
     The story of my final meeting with Bruce occurred one night close to Christmas 2008, inside the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
     Bruce looked like hell at 160 pounds, his body evidence to two potentially devastating life events.
     One was recovery from a kidney transplant, and the second was jail time as he was amongst the first of the airline executives caught up in the price fix scandal.

Events Unfolded Quickly

      Bruce told me about the day when law enforcement swooped into his offices at Qantas Freight Los Angeles to gather up information, paperwork, and computers in 2006.
     He also remembered the day he fielded a call from his bosses at the cargo facility ordering him to report to Qantas headquarters.
     Upon arrival, a human resources employee flown in from headquarters abruptly told him that his job at Qantas was over “based on performance.”
     When Bruce argued that his performance reviews were always deemed “excellent” and that he led Qantas Freight USA from 15 percent of total airline air cargo throughput to 25 percent during his tenure, and that during his watch he had delivered budget numbers 24 out of 26 years (one year his numbers fell was 2001, marked by the 9/11 tragedy), the HR type simply said:
     “Actually, we don’t have to give you a reason.”

Bruce McCaffrey, Qantas LAX building

Reason Apparent

     The “reason” became apparent when Qantas went public the next day with the admission of price fixing, and agreed to pay a fine and jettison Bruce McCaffrey.
     “Maybe I should have seen this coming,” Bruce said when we spoke.
     “Qantas management called me six months before I was terminated and offered me a buyout, but I refused.
     “I guess when you look at the landscape of executives in air cargo that are now taking the package and getting out, I should have gotten out then too.
     “I just thought everything would be OK, even with the ongoing investigations, and I thought that Qantas would handle all the price fixing allegations.
     “I went about my business as usual, reporting everything happening in my freight department to my superiors just as before.”

Bruce As A Fall Guy

     Bruce McCaffrey was the first fall guy for a giant international investigation (witch hunt); at the time, the U.S. DOJ was reportedly looking to convict some Qantas people headquartered in Australia when they realized they could not be extradited to the USA.
     Testimony from two Qantas Freight employees that was obtained by DOJ turned out to be, in truth, nothing more than the word of a couple of low-level types who were promised immunity.
     Bruce, DOJ was told, had issued instructions to secure information concerning rates from competitor airlines.

Going It Alone No Option

     As the charges stacked up in front of him, Bruce learned that in order to defend himself against an international law enforcement frenzy, he would have to put up all he had and more.
     Bruce McCaffrey faced the demand of raising an impossible half million dollars, the kind of money airline people just don’t have, to defend himself with no guarantee of success.
     Qantas refused to help or support him in any way, other than to say if he fought the case “and won that they would share in his legal fees.”
     If he fought the case and lost he faced financial annihilation, fines of one million dollars or more, and a possible sentence of ten years in jail.
     So Bruce McCaffrey, in total survival mode, agreed to cooperate with law enforcement, serve time, and pay a fine.
Geoffrey Arend, Bruce McCaffrey     For Bruce McCaffrey, 2006 was the year that was.
     Fast forward to 2008.
     There he sat, all 160 emaciated pounds, behind a cup of coffee in the Oyster Bar.
     Bruce exited the industry—his entire life—in some manner of disgrace, while most of the people around him at Qantas got off scot-free.
     “I just spoke to investigators from Canada this afternoon,” Bruce ventured as we sat in the Oyster.
     “Recently I was interviewed by investigators from New Zealand.
     “As often as I am approached now, I cooperate because of the offer of immunity.
     “Investigators want to know about the business of air cargo,” Bruce McCaffrey said.
     What Bruce did not say is what was most apparent.
     Ongoing interviews, by a widening group of law enforcement characters from an expanding list of countries, served as primers on air cargo for the prosecutors at home and abroad, who among other things were looking to make a reputation by descending upon our industry like a school of blood-thirsty sharks.

Impressions of Bruce

     As he spoke to us that last time in 2008, we recalled visiting Bruce in Los Angeles in 2005 at Qantas Freight.
     Although at that point, fully on the job, his health had already declined after a mild stroke.
     But Bruce loved what he did and was always proud to work for and deliver on budget for Qantas Freight.
Bruce McCaffrey     I remember we exchanged memorabilia and did a story on Bruce.
     We felt lucky to have that opportunity because at that point, even after 23 years at Qantas, he almost never appeared in air cargo media at all.
     We suggested a trip down under, but Bruce, who checked everything with the home office, could not get us a bump up to Business Class and the trip idea fizzled when I thought of 14 hours with my chin to my knees. Later, when we thought about it, after the price fixing scandal hit, how could someone who had to check for an upgrade, mastermind something as vast as the price-fixing scheme. Ridiculous!
     When word came that Bruce McCaffrey, the straight arrow guy I had known for many years, was in a price fixing beef with the U.S. DOJ, my first reaction was disbelief.
     To this day we still believe he was overwhelmed by forces at work in a shameful episode in air cargo history.
     Now that he is gone, we can only marvel at the spirit and determination that Bruce—a guy who once lived for air cargo—gave to air cargo.
     Somehow he managed to live another six years after losing almost everything, except his determination to not back down.
     “I never made a major decision that was not checked with headquarters.
     “I’ll be dammed if I will allow these charges against me to determine my life,” Bruce told me.
     And he never did.

A Postscript
     Bruce McCaffrey was one of the 21 or so executives who were under fire during theprice fixing scandal that resulted in the airlines being fined, something to the tune of USD$1.7 billion (some of those fines were overturned as late as 2022) with some executives being given jail time of various lengths.
     Now you can say Bruce is/was a felon, who got caught up in the air cargo scandal during that era.
     You can also say that a gang of overzealous U.S. Government lawyers out to make a career reputation, swooped down on air cargo and picked off tons of money and people, like shooting fish in a barrel.
     Lufthansa, it should be mentioned, blew the whistle on everybody with the U.S. Government at the onset in 2005.
     I think everybody was hurt and the cargo people who were charged, served time and came back into the business, and I can think of three or four people I know that did and are still working, the view from 2024 is that there should be some room for the benefit of the doubt and better understanding as to where the fault for all of this lies.
     The story of Bruce McCaffrey, ten years later, tells us that to brand any of them as no good or not worthy to be air cargo leaders in 2024 is insensitive and simply wrong.
     Lest, we forget.


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Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend • Editor Emeritus-Richard Malkin
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