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Charter flight over-bookings sparked Christmas mayhem at Cargolux

Charter flight over-bookings sparked peak season mayhem at Cargolux

OVERZEALOUS booking of charter flights and severe pilots shortages contributed to covered up chaos during a frantic Christmas and New Year peak period at Cargolux Airlines, writes Thelma Etim.

A string of costly delays and grounded operations happened whilst some of the global freight airline’s flight-deck staff were taking their pre-planned holidays, which were allocated in advance in November of the previous calendar year, aircargoeye.com exclusively reveals.

Information provided to aircargoeye.com discloses that more than 100 flights were delayed in the period from Friday 29 December 2017 to Sunday 31st and a further 97 services from Saturday 6 January 2018 through to Monday 8 January were held up.

Along with several leading carriers, the Luxembourg all-cargo airline uses the crew planning and management system AIMS Airline Software. Aircargoeye.com has seen Cargolux’s own aircraft schedule performance for the period.

It shows that a flight from Seoul’s Incheon International Airport to Taiwan International Airport was delayed from after 1800 hours on Friday 29 December, until 2111 on Sunday 31st. This incident was among some of the longest delays.

 …Customers faced a huge backlog of delayed flights

Another example was a flight from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which was delayed from 1600 on Friday 29 December until 0023 on the following Sunday.

The airline and its customers faced a huge backlog of delayed flights from the end of December 2017 through to the second week of January 2018, aircargoeye.com learns.

Significant delays (up to two days and more) included services to and/or from: Luxembourg to Seoul, Seoul to Taiwan, Bahrain to Hong Kong, Luxembourg to Bahrain, Hong Kong to Anchorage, Baku to Luxembourg, Luxembourg to Mexico City, Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Baku, Luxembourg to Malpensa Milan, Malpensa to Los Angeles, Luxembourg to Singapore, Luxembourg to Malpensa, Malpensa to Los Angeles, Taiwan to Mumbai, Mumbai to Baku, Los Angeles to Luxembourg, Baku to Budapest, Seoul to Taiwan, and Los Angeles to Calgary.

“There were substantial delays of the entire fleet,” a source confirms.

Emirates SkyCargo, which entered into an ACMI lease agreement with Cargolux at the tail end of last year, was among the many customers affected by the debacle.

Nevertheless, Richard Forson, the company’s chief executive, in an internal message to staff, chose to down play the situation “…with the exceptional demand, some flights had to be delayed into 2018, but if such demand continues, this augurs well for 2018,” was the limit of his explanation.

“…the sales department, the charter division in particular, try to squeeze in more, and even more flights…”

But one angry insider paints a contrasting picture of the operational chaos, which aircargoeye.com published back in December, during the peak period and the resulting impact it is having on staff.

“Morale is at an all-time low and the management cannot find any pilots who are prepared to work extra days,” he claims.

“Many pilots are just fed up. Since January 1, five pilots have resigned. Imagine if this trend were to continue throughout the year?” he warns.

Another insider alleges: “In my view, certain people in charge have entirely lost control. It is obvious we have a huge lack of pilots and big problems regarding potential [flight-deck] candidates under these new terms and conditions.”

The combination of the cargo carrier’s ongoing pilots shortage, flight-deck staff taking their family pre-planned holidays, and insufficient management interest into whether the airline had enough capacity to manage all of the charter sales in a timely fashion appears to have caused the ensuing fiasco which spilled into the New Year.

“If we had sufficient pilots tomorrow, operations would run fairly smoothly,” argues another source.

“But Cargolux is very sales-driven. There is a clear tendency of the sales department, the charter division in particular, to try to squeeze in more, and even more flights. Then the chaos starts again. It is insane.”

The prognosis is that, post-Chinese New Year, the backlog may continue for weeks, aircargoeye.com learned at the height of the problems in mid-January this year.

“I am just afraid of what the customers think,” admits another source. “If I were a customer like Kuehne + Nagel or Panalpina, I would not be happy. I am not sure what alternatives there are on the [air cargo] market, but chances are some of them would turn their back towards Cargolux and say: ‘OK, I am going to go somewhere else’.”

Meanwhile, CEO Forson will be performing a double-act from the end of this month when he takes over the role of executive vice-president of sales and marketing from 28 February. Niek van der Weide, who assumed that position following the departure of Robert van de Weg in November 2014, is surprisingly retiring “for personal reasons”.

The CEO reveals his plan to multi-task in another internal memo to staff. “Going forward and until such time that a suitable candidate has been recruited, I will be closely involved in the activities of sales and marketing,” he states.

Aircargoeye.com has contacted the Cargolux press office for a response to this story and is awaiting a reply.

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