With its diverse team of multi-racial, multi-generational staff, some striding purposefully, some with a more casual air, keeping its corridors perpetually alive with the rush of coordinated movement, it’s not difficult to see Cathay’s massive Hong Kong headquarters as a microcosm of the airline’s global operation. Located approximately three kilometers from Hong Kong International Airport, Cathay City is the headquarters of Hong Kong’s home carrier, an airline that, over its 77-year history, has emerged as one of the global leader in both passenger transport and cargo conveyancing.
While its passenger flight services will be familiar to many who have visited Hong Kong (or any of the other 65 destinations around the world it serves), its cargo resource—recently rebranded from Cathay Pacific Cargo to simply Cathay Cargo—has true hero status, having played an essential role in keeping its home city stocked during its long Covid-prompted isolation. Now, with such necessity well in the rearview mirror, Cathay Cargo is firmly in expansionary mode, confidently laying out its claim to being one of the most competent, dependable and comprehensive operators in the air freight sector. It is an ethos neatly summed up in the new campaign tagline it rolled out in a rare burst of video advertising in June this year—“We Know How.”
Straightforward, to the point and quietly confident, the qualities inherent in its tagline are equally evident in Tom Owen, Director Cargo—the man charged with ensuring his division makes good on its aim of becoming, as he terms it, “the world’s most customer-centric air cargo services brand.” It is a lofty aspiration, but one that Owen believes the company is already well on course to deliver upon.
“E-commerce has boomed over recent years, and as this trend looks likely to be a sustained uptick, we have added capacity on routes with the highest demand, most notably from the Greater Bay Area to the U.S. and Europe.”
Serving Specialist Segments
Buoyed by the cargo carrier’s significant role in Hong Kong’s recognition as the world’s busiest cargo airport in 2022, Owen is confident that it is well-prepared to meet the many new demands it faces in the post-pandemic era. Outlining the moves the carrier has made to optimize its services across several key segments, he says, “E-commerce has boomed over recent years, and as this trend looks likely to be a sustained uptick, we have added capacity on routes with the highest demand, most notably from the Greater Bay Area to the U.S. and Europe.
“At the same time, we have also responded to the surge in demand for fresh produce delivery. In fact, we now operate a dedicated service called Cathay Fresh, which is specifically designed to rapidly deliver such items from places such as Australia to Hong Kong, mainland China or the U.S. This has been backed by the doubling of our cold storage capacity and the introduction of priority lanes. We ensure quick farm-to-table delivery, allowing customers in Hong Kong to enjoy fresh seasonal produce within two days of packing in most cases.”
Another specialized area where Cathay Cargo has been keen to bolster its offerings is pharmaceuticals, the flow of which was truly a matter of life and death on a massive scale not too long ago. Detailing how this solution has evolved, Owen says, “We have always had the temperature-control facilities to handle pharmaceuticals, but now, with our Cathay Pharma service, we are really making a virtue of that. Essentially, our resources allow us to carry pharmaceuticals from any part of the world to any other safely and rapidly.”
In many ways, it is this intelligent expansion and consolidation of its existing services that characterize Cathay Cargo’s forward strategy, an approach exemplified by the rethinking of its core mail handling services. Explaining the changes here, Owen says: “Our relaunched Cathay Mail service has once again been influenced by the surge in e-commerce volumes. This enables post offices worldwide, all of which aim to build their e-commerce presence, to track and trace their mail, while also providing them with a simplified billing and reconciliation system.
“Our ongoing commitment to digitization has also allowed us to incorporate this same level of transparency and accountability into our activities across the board. Basically, we have integrated all our paper-based procedures relating to every component of the supply chain into one digital system. This provides users with an end-to-end track and trace capability, allowing them to monitor their cargo across a variety of metrics, including exact status and current temperature. The system can also be used to place initial bookings.”
Taking the GBA Truly Global
Aside from its expertise, Cathay Cargo’s other significant advantages are its geographical affiliations and connectivity, both of which it has adeptly harnessed as it looks to bolster its global offerings. Among the most notable of these is its extended home market of the Greater Bay Area (GBA), the massive priority development zone that encompasses nine mainland cities in Guangdong, as well as Macau and Hong Kong.
Given the sheer size of the GBA’s existing manufacturing base and the expectation of rapid expansion in the years to come, Cathay Cargo has understandably moved swiftly to position itself at the center of the zone’s logistics resources. Indeed, when the Airport Authority Hong Kong opened a cargo terminal in Dongguan, one of the mainland GBA cities, Cathay Cargo was the first to establish a dedicated on-site facility—Cathay Cargo Terminal Dongguan.
Commenting on its significance and utility, Owen says, “This puts us right at the heart of the GBA manufacturing region. We can now transport cargo by barge, having been pre-cleared by customs and security upstream in Dongguan, directly to Hong Kong International Airport. This saves on handling costs and reduces transit time for customers, providing us with a seamless connectivity advantage in this dynamic region for both exports and, in the future, imports.”
Fortuitously, with Cathay Cargo clearly reinventing itself and looking to showcase the realities that underpin its “We Know How” tagline, there couldn’t be a better time for the IATA World Cargo Symposium—one of the industry’s most prestigious events—to take place in Hong Kong next year.
Clearly relishing the opportunity it represents, Owen says: “As the host airline for the biggest air cargo event of the year, I’m delighted that very senior people from the industry will be coming to see for themselves what we are capable of. We’ll be providing a very warm welcome for anyone who wants to know more about us.”