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   Vol. 22 No. 8
Wednesday March 1, 2023

Tulsi Mirchandaney

     The theme for International Women’s Month this year is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”
     Who better to represent air cargo during International Women’s Month 2023 than Tulsi Nowlakha Mirchandaney, who is celebrating over five decades in air cargo. Tulsi is Managing Director and Accountable Manager of Blue Dart Aviation and is our lead off story as we launch Women’s Month 2023.
     Blue Dart is based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India and serves 7 Indian metro cities. Deutsche Post owns a 70% stake in the airline through its subsidiary Blue Dart Express. Blue Dart operates a fleet of 6 B757-200 freighters to leading India cities.
     “The only constant in my 28 years here,” Tulsi said unhesitatingly, “has been the enduring passion and resilience of the people who make up this amazing industry, and who have helped it grow and evolve through decades of varied challenges and turbulence”.
     She began as part of the project team that launched Blue Dart Aviation in 1996.
     Looking back, Tulsi believes that the vision of the founders to have taken a leap of faith to launch a domestic cargo airline resource was courageous and insightful.
     ‘What was conceived and achieved for India was revolutionary.
     “That meant bridging the gap of high-performance service across the entire logistics chain with Air Express, and the use of proprietary technology.
     “Air express existed back then but shippers had to face the unreliable bellyhold capacity of passenger airlines,” Tulsi said.
     She recounts that the “first and last mile elements for the door-to-door service had been tried and tested over the years, but what was missing was the air infrastructure support which we planned to bridge.
     “Our team worked hard to establish indigenous capability in aircraft maintenance, ground handling, security and the entire gamut of services that delivered high standards of service quality to our offering.
     “The beginning,” Tulsi smiled, “was not without challenges as the learning curve was steep and not without its share of impediments.
     “As a first stand-alone, all-cargo airline, Blue Dart had to handle demands for its unique-to-the market model of operations.
     “We began with a small fleet of two B737-200 freighters.
     “They were operated from basic facilities, which put great pressure on the team to maintain consistent, high performance delivery.
     “Our success came through great teamwork and ‘can-do’ spirit that never failed to come up with solutions that have become an intrinsic part of The Blue Dart team’s culture to this day.
     “We scripted a milestone in Indian aviation history with the establishment of India’s first domestic cargo airline,” she smiles.
     “Now 28 years later, we are still the only scheduled domestic cargo airline in the country.
     “It makes all of us in Blue Dart proud.
     “For me personally, it’s been a passage of great pride and purpose.

Blue Dart b757-200F

     “Today, the team can boast of newer, dedicated airside facilities, higher capacity, more fuel-efficient B757 freighters and a larger workforce.
     “During the pandemic, unlike other sectors, for the Blue Dart team there was no ‘work from home.’
     “We sustained operations of our scheduled flights, and international charters in addition, and the lights never went out at our facilities.
     “We delivered to the same service quality benchmarks that we offered pre-pandemic. Blue Dart supported the Indian government, several state governments, local municipalities, hospitals, and research institutions. Essential and non-essential supplies continued to be delivered across the country through Blue Dart’s strong air and ground express network,” she said.
     “Blue Dart launched its international operations for the first time as part of the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation’s ‘Lifeline Udaan’ initiative, uplifting emergency supplies, operating to China (Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu), Hong Kong, Myanmar, Hanoi and Dhaka.
     “We re-set to the ‘Improvise – Adapt -Overcome’ mode, which included daily calls by the leadership team with the operating units, contactless and OTP delivery.
     “This allowed us to navigate the pandemic efficiently.
     “Our BCCP, assessing our systems and processes on a real time basis, enhanced our seamless services,” she said.
     A keen analyst of air cargo in the country, Tulsi noted that post-Covid, “freight movements that had been impacted by the pandemic have now reached pre-pandemic levels.
     “Blue Dart’s air and ground package handling capacity is on track, and the company has initiated action to build further infrastructure.
     “And, the results are there for all to see: In 2022, total cargo volume in the country increased by 27% over the previous year, with international cargo increasing by 29% and domestic cargo increasing by 24%.”
     Looking ahead,Tulsi is confident that India’s air cargo transportation industry is well positioned to scale up further, thanks largely to the rising demand in ecommerce.
     “The last two years have signalled a clear shift, from manufacturing cycles to mindsets, and businesses of all sizes have had to respond to changing global market dynamics. The ability to remain agile and move products, materials, and supplies swiftly, in line with shorter planning cycles, requires an equally agile supply chain and air cargo infrastructure. This bodes well for air cargo and logistics,” she predicts.
     Blue Dart has been focusing to extend its presence to the Tier II and III markets. As she put it: “We are a part of the largest and most comprehensive express and logistics network worldwide, covering over 220 countries and territories.
     “Our six B757s have proven to be real workhorses for Blue Dart – especially during the pandemic.
     The fleet will soon be augmented with two B737-800 freighters
     “The upcoming challenge,” Tulsi Mirchandaney said “will be to create capacity and cost-efficient logistics solutions at Tier-2 and Tier-3 airports to feed into domestic hubs and international gateways, support the market reach and extend the catchment area.”
     She points out that the country’s state governments and 3PL service providers have come together to try and embrace innovative solutions to address this challenge.
     As example, The government has designed the LEEP (Logistics Efficiency Enhancement Program) to improve logistics efficiency using infrastructure solutions such as creating 35 multimodal logistics parks, with technology and digital solutions like goods tracking.
     Elsewhere in 2023 Tulsi said that she believes what has not changed is the intent of every business to succeed.
     “This drives meritocracy,” she says, adding “more and more Indian leaders, I sense understand and appreciate employees, regardless of whether they are men or women, who help them achieve their business goals.
     “I do not believe women would wish to see their worth devalued by a tag of ‘special category’ . . . Pilots, engineers, courier personnel—all three seemingly male bastions of the air cargo segment—have increasingly seen more women make their mark.
     “Blue Dart is setting an example by leading the way,” she said.
     Tulsi Mirchandaney says that it is up to employers to create a safe, equitable and inclusive workplace that encourages women and men to deliver service to the customers that in return will make their organizations successful.

chuckles for February 28, 2023

Dagmar Hanau, Stuart Tonkin, Ingo Zimmer, Marlize Edwards, Koketso Lekgwathi and Tianny Mabona.
Left to right:  Dagmar Hanau, Group Marketing Manager; Stuart Tonkin, Country Manager South Africa; Ingo Zimmer, CEO ATC Aviation Group, Marlize Edwards, Finance and Admin Supervisor and Koketso Lekgwathi, Customer Service Agent with Tianny Mabona, “The Good Soul.”

“Hosting the VIP lounge at Air Cargo Africa 2023, we had very good discussions and results and took a comparatively large number of high-quality expressions of interest back with us.”

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Campbell Wilson

     As expected, Air India's Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, industry veteran Campbell Wilson confirmed a 470 aircraft order Tuesday, February 28.
     In a wide-ranging presser, Wilson talked about the ‘much beloved by some’ Maharaja Brand, saying that the Maharaja is one of the “many strong assets that Air India would like to retain.
     “The new image of Air India must reflect the image of New India to appeal to all,” he said.
     Tata Group, that now owns Air India again, an airline that it had originally launched in the early 1930s, and Campbell Wilson who was enticed away from Scoot based in Singapore late last June, are shoulder to the wheel, money on the table in an all-out attempt to turn around a once great airline, that Forbes recently described as “a basket case.”
     TATA said funding for the USD$70 billion aircraft order will come from internal cash, equity and through sale-and-leasebacks. But in this on again, off again world of airline business we will have to wait and see about all of that.
     However, now with the Tata takeover, the situation is different. The carrier is more focused and agile. Air cargo veterans, we talked to, emphasized that Air India has to bring cargo to the forefront. That is simply because Air India has the largest global network for any Indian carrier – flying to America, Europe, Australia, and Japan. It already has a market that it can build upon and leverage.
     Currently Air India is going through a transformation program: Vihaan.AI.
Vihaan AI is a five-year plan that has been divided into three phases. These phases cover “many work streams to tackle the business and challenge comprehensively,” according to Wilson. “We've been working hard over the 12 months since the airline was privatized, and certainly the seven or eight months since I came and want to make this vision of creating a new Air India a reality,” he said.
     Air India has added more than 1,200 professionals to the ground staff. No hiring had been done for the last 15 years.
     “We've recruited 300 staff and deployed them at our main airports in India and around the world, as well as close to 4,2,00 cabin crew and 900 new pilots . . . We have invested in platforms, even as simple as Microsoft Outlook and office so that people will have the tools that they need to collaborate and be productive,” Wilson said.
     Wilson emphasized that cargo would be a significant part of Air India’s revenue mix. The carrier, he said, would focus on cargo and create the necessary infrastructure and capability so that it can use the opportunities in cargo. Pointing out the historic order of aircraft by Air India, Wilson said that the “newly ordered aircraft, particularly the wide-body aircraft, comes with a lot of belly cargo space.”
     Indeed, utilizing its planned belly space in its soon to be growing B777 and A350 fleet would be a great start for Air India to regain some position as a cargo carrier.

AirIndia MaharajahAir India's Maharaja has been the carrier's oldest and best-loved mascot. Sporting a striped turban, a big mustache, traditional churidar kurta (narrow trousers and a long shirt) and pointed mojris (slip-on shoes), the Maharaja was created back in 1946 by the carrier's then commercial director Bobby Kooka and Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thompson.
   Kooka always remembered his creation with love.
   In an article, he mentioned that the Maharaja had been so named "for want of a better description.
   “But his blood isn't blue.
   “He may look like royalty, but he isn't royal," wrote Kooka.
   The Maharaja made its first appearance – not as a mascot – but as an appendage to inflight memo pads.
   He was instantly liked and over a period of time came to be associated with grace and luxury.
   To top it all, his fancy clothes, his eyes displaying satisfaction and contentment won a lot of hearts.
   Through the years, the slightly portly Maharaja has not only appeared in a large number of attires but also taken on different personalities—from a Parisian painter, a sumo wrestler, a Spanish matador and even a Texan oil tycoon—to announce Air India's new destinations and flights.

Lionel Smith and Aaron Smith     Air Cargo Integrators (ACI) CEO Lionel Smith and his son Aaron Smith were surveying the trade show scene Tuesday February 21 at the Air Cargo Africa 2023 in Johannesburg. As he looked up and down the aisles, Lionel at six feet, seven inches tall, enjoyed a unique vantage point.
     Born in Kenya and on the scene in Dubai cargo for the past several decades, Lionel Smith not only stands above.      In a crowd of ground handlers he also stands out for his inventiveness, love of the business, and openhearted effort to deliver cargo where others fear to tread.
     We met Lionel in 2008 at the bustling Dubai Airport Freezone - DAFZ He was serving as managing director of ACI during a time when he was overseeing many successful cargo charter flights across the world, especially in outsized projects, transit shipments, emergency relief, and air drops in war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan.
     “I recall that we were flying charter flights into Kabul, Afghanistan, where Air Cargo Integrators Afghanistan Ltd. was situated.
     “ACI was flying charter flights into Kabul, Afghanistan, working with WSI World Security Initiatives (WSI) Kabul, to deliver value added services including airport reception; trans-shipment i.e. air to air, sea to air, freight reception, and door-to-door service from Baghdad and Erbil.
     “We also were early boots on the ground, offering door-to-door delivery service within Afghanistan from our bonded warehouse facility located on Jalalabad Road, Kabul.
     “ACI was also very early in, offering several weekly frequencies a week to Baghdad International Airport (BGW) International Airport.”
     Today based at Dubai World Central (DWC), Smith has an office at the business part DWC, where he conducts his normal charter and freight forwarding business.
     Post pandemic and changing times call for new strategies and Lionel, an old cargo pro, has added value to his enterprise by bringing in his son Aaron, who spent 5 years with Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) in Dubai on the consulting side.
     “‘People, Partnership, and Performance’ are at the forefront of our business philosophy,” Lionel says.
     “ACI Logistics counts our people as our strongest asset.
     “Passion for work, altruistic commitment, and business acumen have to date crafted strong partnerships with our valued customers.
     “We take pride in what we have achieved and remain committed to consistently providing quality Warehousing, Freight Forwarding, and Logistic solutions to all our clients, placing emphasis on safety, quality, and sustainability in all areas of our work.
     “We work on an equal footing with everyone,” Lionel smiled, adding, “We never talk down to anyone!”

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     A well-known and liked, long-time organizer and advocate for Customs Brokers in New York and beyond named Joel Ditkowsky Friday February 17.
     “I delivered my first consignment to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, a shipment of Rabies Vaccine in 1954 bound for Amsterdam,” he once told me.
     “I was 17 years old just out of high school and that was a summer job memory that stayed with me forever,” he said.
     Air cargo can gently be reminded post Covid, what goes around comes around.
     His friend and working colleague Valerie Caulfield, Managing Member at Customs and Trade paid loving tribute:
     “Joel was a selfless man, always wanting to help his fellow brokers with problems.
     “He leaned in and it came from his heart.
     “I am grateful to have worked alongside Joel for decades as a fellow Customs Broker, member of the JFK Airport Brokers Association where he served as President, Semantics, and the NCBFAA Shippers Association, Inc..
     “He was a well-respected gentleman and a friend, but he was also very funny and fun, a real down to earth human being,” Valerie recalled.
     Joel, as Customs Compliance Officer at Freight Brokers Global Service Inc. became a fixture in Cargo Building 80, the Customs Brokers home in the center of the original cargo area at Idlewild Airport, today’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
     Joel gained global fame raising recognition for Brokers and cargo to local governing committees and legislators in Washington and elsewhere.
     Joel served as Vice President, of the JFK Airport Custom Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association, chairing its Airline Committee for over 30 years.
     He was a Member of the Board of the JFK Chamber of Commerce, as Legislative and Government Affairs Chairman.
     At Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy he conducted courses and organized field trips on Cargo Security, Customs Process, Intermodalism and more at the airport.
     Across several decades, there were scores of offices and thousands of Brokers in Cargo Building 80.
     Most had originally moved offices from shipside in Manhattan as the airplanes took over the passenger business post World War II.
     Joel came to the airport with “fresh eyes” in the 1950s, elevating respect for Customs Brokers.
     Eventually his passion also became a centerpiece of his business life.
     Today Building 80, which was so important in developing the culture of air cargo brokerage pumping traffic around the world, and Joel Ditkowsky, who proudly carried that banner, are both gone.
     The JFK Air Cargo Association honored Joel as Person of the Year over a decade ago at their Annual Air Cargo Day.
     JFK once handled 60% of all international USA air traffic and Joel was there.
     Why not a plaque somewhere near where both Joel and people that served in Cargo Building 80 made history by setting standards still in use today worldwide? We should not forget.
     Happy landings always, Joel.

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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