Read how Air India Express cargo operations obtained a new direction in the post-pandemic era
When Air India Express decided to scale up its cargo operations to help farmers and exporters amidst a COVID-induced supply chain crisis, the Airline mainly faced two challenges: first of all, the cargo capacity in the airline’s belly-hold was limited, and secondly, cargo routes were one-directional.
To overcome these challenges, Air India Express introduced an innovative step – the cargo-in-cabin, also described as P2C (Passenger-to-cargo) flights.
P2C is a special innovation whereby cargo was carried in the aircraft cabin in the outbound direction, with the flight returning as a normal passenger service. This needed close coordination among Engineering, Operations, Cargo, Airport Services, and Flight Safety Departments, as well as liaison with the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
Thus, P2C flights started to ferry cargo, an average of 16.5 tons per flight, in the belly holds as well as cargo-in-cabin in outbound flights while carrying passengers in inbound flights. Until then, the cargo was treated as a peripheral ancillary service by the Airline. But with P2C, cargo operations attained a new direction.
On these flights, the Airline mostly carried perishable goods, especially farm produce. Besides reducing supply chain disruptions, this initiative helped local farmers to export their produce on time.
The numbers speak
Air India Express operated 327 P2C flights to various Gulf and South East Asian countries, in the period following the pandemic up to September 2021. It uplifted about 4,500 tons of cargo, mostly fresh farm products, under P2C flights.
Apart from the P2C flights, Air India Express also carried cargo in the belly holds of normal passenger flights.
The total uplift was approximately 13,000 tons of mostly agricultural cargo during the FY 2020-21, and about 22,000 tons during the year 2021-22 (April to January)
The airline estimates that it helped export fresh farm products amounting to over Rs 1,000 crores since the period following the pandemic.
This operation proved to be a big boon to Indian farmers as these flights were mostly from Tier-II cities. They exported over 35,000 tons of farm produce to markets in Gulf/Middle East, South Asia, and South East Asia in the period following the pandemic up to January 2022.
The Airline, meanwhile, benefitted through effective utilization of manpower and aircraft even during the darkest days of the pandemic.