Emirates SkyCargo looks back on a challenging 2021


Emirates SkyCargo successfully navigated the complex landscape of the global logistics and supply chain industry in 2021 by focusing on its strengths and values, which it regards as agility and responsiveness, customer focus, innovation, fleet and network capabilities. The airfreight division of Emirates notched up milestones throughout the year as it strived to be a first mover in ensuring that trade lanes remain open, through measures such as reinstating flights and providing additional capacity on key trade routes across six continents. Here’s how the year panned out for Emirates SkyCargo:

January: Distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

Emirates SkyCargo focused on supporting communities, especially those in developing markets, with rapid access to Covid-19 vaccines and other medical supplies. To this end, in January 2021, the company partnered with leading Dubai-based entities – DP World, International Humanitarian City and Dubai Airports – to form the Dubai Vaccine Logistics Alliance to expedite global vaccine distribution through Dubai.

Emirates SkyCargo also signed an MoU with UNICEF in February 2021 to prioritise delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and related supplies in support of the COVAX initiative for equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

With its expertise in transporting temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals and with its widebody capacity and extensive global network, Emirates SkyCargo played an important role in the international movement of Covid-19 vaccines. At one point in April 2021, one in every 20 Covid-19 vaccines administered around the world had flown on an Emirates aircraft.

By December 2021, the cargo carrier had transported a total of 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines on its flights to over 80 destinations: one of the largest volumes globally by any airline cargo carrier.

February: Supporting perishable exports

In February 2021, Emirates SkyCargo showcased its support and commitment for the global food and beverage industry with a stand at Gulfood 2021, the world’s largest annual food and beverage trade exhibition in Dubai.

Emirates SkyCargo transports close to 600 tonnes of food materials every day on its flights, supporting communities reliant on agricultural exports for income and at the same time also ensuring food security at markets reliant on food imports.

The air cargo carrier transported over 265,000 tonnes of perishables and food on its flights in 2021, facilitating an important volume of the global cross-border logistics in the trade of food and other perishables.

March: One year anniversary of cargo-only flights

In March 2021, Emirates SkyCargo marked one year of utilising Emirates’ Boeing 777 passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations. These cargo flights on passenger aircraft helped supplement available global cargo capacity for Emirates SkyCargo, facilitating transport of PPE, food, medicines, electronics, raw materials for manufacturing, and several other commodities. Emirates SkyCargo had operated more than 27,800 cargo flights on passenger aircraft between March 2020 and March 2021: the most of any global air carrier.

Throughout the year, Emirates SkyCargo continued to operate cargo flights on its passenger aircraft and mini freighters (passenger aircraft with seats removed from economy class), supplementing cargo capacity and helping transport more goods and commodities from origin to destination. The air cargo carrier operated more than 20,000 cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft during 2021.

April: Reinstating the global network

By April 2021, Emirates SkyCargo had reinstated its global network for cargo flights to more than 135 destinations across six continents. This represented more than 85% of its pre-pandemic global network. By end of June 2021, Emirates SkyCargo was operating to more than 140 destinations, restoring 90% of its pre-Covid network.

May: Humanitarian assistance through Emirates India Airbridge

In May 2021, Emirates SkyCargo announced that it was establishing a humanitarian airbridge between Dubai and India to transport urgent medical and relief items, to support the Indian community to fight the serious Covid-19 situation at that time in the country. The air cargo carrier supported partner organisations, including International Humanitarian City and WHO, by flying relief materials free of charge to nine destinations in India. More than 100 tonnes of cargo were flown free of charge within the first three weeks of the announcement of the airbridge.

June: Strengthening the cool-chain infrastructure at Dubai

In June 2021, Emirates SkyCargo expanded its temperature-sensitive pharma and vaccine-handling capabilities at its EU GDP-certified dedicated pharma facility at Dubai International Airport. The air cargo carrier added 94 cool-room pallet positions to its existing infrastructure, allowing for more handling capacity for temperature-sensitive pharma, including Covid-19 vaccines. The new extension is able to hold an estimated 60-90 million doses of vaccines at any time.

Emirates SkyCargo’s pharma infrastructure and capabilities include a three-tiered specialised product, ‘Emirates Pharma’, with innovative equipment such as dedicated pharma cool dollies for maintaining an unbroken cool chain on the airport ramp, as well as enhanced origin to destination temperature protection with its Pharma Corridors programme.

 July: Flying champion horses to and from Tokyo for the Olympics

July 2021 marked the start of one of the largest air charters for the transport of champion horses ever undertaken by Emirates. The carrier flew 316 horses from Liege to Tokyo and 323 horses from Tokyo to Liege, concluding more than 18 months of intense planning. 16 dedicated charter flights on Emirates Boeing 777 freighters also transported 157 horse grooms, 160 tonnes of equipment, and 336 horse stalls over a seven-week period from mid-July.

August: Supporting exports and record-breaking operations

With capacity shortfall impacting exports of industrial and consumer supplies across the world, Emirates SkyCargo’s global teams pulled out all the stops to operate additional flights to facilitate transport of time-sensitive commodities.

As an illustration, Emirates SkyCargo’s team in Hanoi, Vietnam, transported more than 4,500 tonnes of export cargo from Hanoi on a record-breaking 97 cargo flights, handling anywhere between 6-7 flights in a single day, flying a variety of commodities from PPE to electronics, to perishable commodities such as fruit and vegetables, to clothing and high fashion.

September: Upgrading the customer experience

In order to enhance the user experience and efficiency of its cargo booking process, Emirates SkyCargo partnered with WiseTech Global, a software provider to the logistics industry, to provide direct access to its flights and inventory for cargo customers, allowing them to make bookings directly without any other touchpoints. This is part of Emirates SkyCargo’s broader initiatives to provide a more optimised user experience for external and internal customers, along with additional digital functionalities.

October: E-commerce

Emirates Delivers, the e-commerce delivery platform developed by Emirates SkyCargo, celebrated its second anniversary. The product is aimed at individual and small business customers in the UAE who shop online regularly from the USA.

E-commerce was also the focus area of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that Emirates SkyCargo signed with Emirates Post in November at the Dubai Airshow. Under the agreement, the two entities will work together to create an end-to-end global logistics platform, with its hub in Dubai.

November: Focus on freighters

Emirates SkyCargo outlined its roadmap for 2022-2024 for its freighter fleet at the Dubai Airshow.  The air cargo carrier announced that it had invested US$1 billion on acquiring two new freighter aircraft from Boeing, as well as for the conversion of four Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft into freighters by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

December: Supporting small businesses

Through its international network, Emirates SkyCargo enables many small businesses across continents to reach a larger global audience. One of the companies that Emirates SkyCargo has been helping is a UAE start-up that has been growing premium oysters in the waters of Dibba Bay. The air cargo carrier facilitates the rapid transportation of this premium produce from the UAE to connoisseurs in markets such as Russia, often within the same day.

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About Author


Ever since his first flight on a TriStar, Adam has loved air travel, and since becoming editor of the Aircraft Interiors International brand he has really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the latest aircraft and airline products before they are even launched. Adam co-ordinates the running of the magazine, from commissioning articles and artwork, to ensuring that high standards of quality are maintained, as well as managing online content. Adam is proud to sit on the jury of the Crystal Cabin Awards and to have laid on the bed in Etihad's Residence.

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