Like many other cargo carriers that had descended on Mumbai to showcase their products and services at the recent Air Cargo India Forum 2016 in India’s financial capital, Turkish Cargo, the dedicated cargo-operating arm of Turkey’s national carrier, had its sights on India’s booming pharmaceutical industry which has emerged as one of the world’s biggest suppliers of generic pharma products.
Though he did not exactly quantify the share of the pharmaceutical products in Turkish Cargo’s traffic volume out of India, Halit Anlatan, Turkish Cargo’s vice president (cargo marketing and sales), was bullish about the role of the pharma segment in the overall traffic from India to the rest of the world via the carrier’s national hub in Istanbul.

“I am confident that pharmaceuticals will play a major role in our traffic from India to a number of major markets in the world, including the United States which happens to be India’s largest market for this product group,” Anlatan said in an interview with the American Journal of Transportation at the Mumbai event. Despite the fierce competition amongst cargo carriers, Turkish Cargo is interested to carve out a slice of India’s pharma export cargo pie, particularly meant for the U.S. market.

Turkish Airlines, the parent company, operates a daily service each to Delhi and Mumbai, transporting cargo in the aircraft belly. Over and above, Turkish Cargo operates twice weekly freighter service to Delhi and once weekly to Mumbai.

Calling the Air Cargo Indian Forum 2016 a “niche show”, Anlatan said that India is a major market that generates a huge cargo traffic. “We are looking for new destinations in India,” he revealed.

In view of the special handling required by pharmaceutical products, which tend to lose their efficacy if not stored at proper temperatures, Anlatan emphasized that Turkish Cargo was “extremely meticulous” in handling cargo requiring special care. “This applies, particularly, to the pharmaceutical products which are subject to decay, deterioration or decomposition over a period of time or if exposed to adverse temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions. These include medicine, raw material of pharmaceuticals, vaccines, sera, plasma and other biotechnological and medical materials,” he said, claiming that his carrier can transport pharmaceutical cargo “when and where it needs to go at the ideal temperature range”, using “time and temperature sensitive” labels that indicate the temperature range required for the cargo.

Asked if the cargo carrier’s hub at the Istanbul Ataturk International Airport, which served as a transit point, was equipped with appropriate storage facilities to maintain pharma products at the right temperatures, Anlatan pointed out that the airport has nine cool rooms of +2 degree/C + 8 degree C, another nine cool rooms of +15 degree C/ + 25 degree C, 7 cool rooms of 0 degree C/+14 degree C and four rooms with freezers 15 degree C/20 degree C.

Turkish Cargo transported a total volume of some 730,000 tons in 2015, up 8% over the previous year’s volume. The cargo carrier’s fleet, at present, has 10 freighters, seven of which are A330F and the remaining three are A310F aircraft. But its burgeoning passenger aircraft fleet has become an important medium for transporting belly-hold cargo; it maintains 300 passenger aircraft, of which 80 are wide-bodied and the remaining 220 are narrow-bodied aircraft.

While North America is a “promising market”, as Anlatan called it, the lion’s share of its business comes from the rest of the world, notably the Far East, Western Europe and Turkey itself.

Discussing the cargo carrier’s operations in North America, Anlatan said: “In North America, we started operating to two new destinations last year – San Francisco and Miami. This year we will start operating to Atlanta and Panama, and will be increasing our capacity for Washington DC and Los Angeles where we will have two daily passenger flights. We have once a week freighter service to JFK New York, once a week freighter to Chicago and Atlanta each.”

Turkish Cargo is trying to foray into Asia; it already flies to three cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – in China, deploying passenger B777 aircraft. The cargo carrier will have an additional freighter service to Guangzhou, increasing it to twice a week; it will have a thrice weekly freighter service to Shanghai. The carrier has six weekly passenger flights to Hong Kong, in addition to a freighter service (four times a week with an A330F).

South Korea is another big market for Turkish Cargo which has a twice-daily passenger flight and three weekly freighter flights to Seoul. The carrier serves Japan with a twice daily passenger flight to Tokyo with an A330 aircraft.

The newly created ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in Southeast Asia is also attractive for the cargo carrier. “We are increasing our capacity to Malaysia using two flights a day from summer, using an A330 passenger aircraft.

The migration of companies shifting their manufacturing operations to Vietnam from China, thanks to the latter’s economic slowdown and the rising production and labor costs, has helped Vietnam become the “new China” with a strong export-oriented economy leading to a steady rise in export cargo meant for major markets in North America and Europe. The carrier operates a joint daily flight to Saigon and Hanoi but it will fly separately to the two cities in its winter plan, in addition to the three weekly freighter flights to Hanoi.

“We will also fly to Cambodia in May, sharing capacity with Hanoi,” Anlatan said.

Turkish Cargo operates a daily passenger flight and a weekly freighter service to Dhaka, Bangladesh which exports high-end value products (garments, textiles, etc.) by air.

Observing the current global situation, as far as the cargo markets are concerned, Anlatan said declining oil prices in 2015 had an impact on air-cargo traffic. According to IATA cargo statistics, some $ 65 billion worth of global air-cargo shipments were handled in 2012 but the figure had declined in 2015 to $ 50 billion. Anlatan said that the express business was growing faster than the cargo business.

But Turkey’s deteriorating relations with both Russia and Iran have contributed to a decline in the cargo volume of Turkish Cargo.

Anlatan emphasized that the carrier had a “good business relationship” with Russia which faces sanctions from the West and does not derive enough revenue from oil sales which had sharply declined.

Turkish Airlines flies to six cities in Iran but does not operate a freighter service to that country. “In Tehran we sometimes use wide-bodied aircraft and transport dates, perishables, etc.,” he said.

Turkish Cargo already placed in 2012 an order for three aircraft of the A330F type; two of these freighter aircraft will be delivered to the carrier in April and October this year. The third aircraft will be delivered in February 2017.