An AFL Interview with Henrik Ambak, Senior Vice President of Cargo Operations at Emirates SkyCargo
As the leaders of the air cargo industry come face-to-face in the 7th annual Air Cargo Handling Conference in Bangkok, AFL took the chance to have a one-on-one session with Mr. Henrik Ambak, Senior Vice President of Cargo Operations Worldwide at Emirates SkyCargo, on a variety of topics concerning airfreight.
Mr. Ambak has been in charge since December 2014 and is responsible for the management of all Emirates SkyCargo’s operations worldwide including the Dubai hub. With 27 years of experience in various roles of the air cargo industry, he joined Emirates SkyCargo after having worked for companies including Novia, CSLux and Cargolux Airlines. Starting off as a freight forwarder, his career so far sums up to 13 years in ground handling and cargo warehouse management, and 14 years in airline operations. Consequently, he has an understanding of the requirements and needs of each part of the supply chain.
Airfreight is Different Things to Different People
Emirates SkyCargo is yet to be a member of Cargo 2000, and Mr. Ambak begins by explaining that they are currently an observer, spending time deciding whether they would like to be a part of the association. Commenting on the conference, Mr. Ambak said, “The problem is that people come into these conferences and say that everything is different – it’s not standardized.” He explains that one airline could be happy just delivering “t-shirts-in-boxes”, while another aspires to expand and deliver more timed services, and another wants to specialize in delivering a specific type of product such as pharmaceuticals. There’s nothing wrong in just wanting to move t-shirts if that’s the type of business they want to be.
“We’re allowed to be different,” says Mr. Ambak. “That’s the challenge; people want everyone to do the same things but the clients need different solutions”
“To some, next day delivery is important, to others four days is still fine if it is a planned service.” He adds how content he was that the conference ended with the conclusion that the forwarders will be invited to next year’s conference. “At the moment, we have the handlers and the airlines engaging each other but in reality the decision makers are the forwarders representing the shippers, and they weren’t even part of this discussion.”
The Reliable Market
Mr. Ambak believes that Cargo 2000 is “all about creating transparency in the delivery and time effectiveness.” There is a market segmentation where one side positions itself in the reliable market – otherwise termed as the plannable market – and Emirates SkyCargo has chosen to be in that market. There are customers who want their cargo to arrive at its destination as soon as possible and there are those who are more concerned about exactly when, where and how their cargo will arrive. The main thing they want is reliability and these are the customers Emirates SkyCargo choose to say yes to. Mr. Ambak also reveals that they do not want to compete with those who have very low fares despite being exposed to that pressure.
When compared to integrators, Emirates SkyCargo is moving a lot of freight per person but the price and cost is considerably lower. “We don’t have the infrastructure,” Mr. Ambak comments. “In essence, we’re primarily from airport to airport.” He believes that Emirates SkyCargo has a good proposition for customers. “What we do have is a fantastic network effectively connecting trading points worldwide. That’s one of our advantages.”
Twenty to 30 years ago, airlines used to handle cargo themselves, Mr. Ambak explains. Now they realize it is more cost effective to outsource, and so came the emergence of the independent handlers. “Handlers, as we know it, are a relatively new phenomenon,” says Mr. Ambak.
The Free Market
The free market regulates what people buy. I don’t believe that you can force people to do something, the attractive solution will sell itself.
When mentioning the free market, Mr. Ambak has a different take, since all others appear to be in favor of mandates and regulation. “The free market regulates what people buy,” says Mr. Ambak. He gives an analogy using mobile phones: 10 years ago, certain brands dominated the market, and then Apple introduced the iPhone with an ingenious concept of the App Store.
It was not mandated that everyone should buy and start using the iPhone, but the people were impressed. That is when the free market took over – there was no regulation, no mandate or standardization. “Like in our industry, the market forces regulate what is being sold,” says Mr. Ambak. “I don’t believe that you can force people to do something, the attractive solution will sell itself.”
On a final note, when asked where Emirates SkyCargo will be in about 10 years, Mr. Ambak reveals that they are going stronger into product segmentation, initially pharmaceuticals and heavy/out-size followed by other verticals. “We want to enter these market segments with competence and say, ‘we have the aircraft, we have the network and now we have the competency,’” says Mr. Ambak. He also reveals that they are building a new warehouse dedicated to pharmaceuticals at DXB and are acquiring improved products for live animals. He adds, “We are doing things at a speed in which we can sell it. We have to make sure we put our money to where there is somebody willing to make use of our services.”