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A talk with Stavros Evangelakakis, Head of Global Healthcare at Cargolux

“The real challenges lie in the logistics around the flight...”

Cargolux, based in Luxembourg, is Europe’s leading all-cargo airline with a modern and efficient fleet composed of a total of thirty Boeing 747F. With over 2,250 employees around the world, the company has more than 85 offices in over 50 countries and covers a global network of destinations. We took the opportunity and invited Stavros Evangelakakis, Head of Global Healthcare at Cargolux, to talk to us about the most recent developments in airfreight, challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and the strict processes required to maintain the cold chain of pharmaceutical products.

“In 2020, Cargolux witnessed a double-digit increase in pharmaceutical transports.”

Stavros Evengelakakis sums up Cargolux' pharmaceutical business in 2020.

“As international flights became scarce, our airline provided an air bridge between Europe, Asia, and the Americas.”

Cargolux' Head of Global Health remembers the beginnings of the first lockdowns in Europe.

Interviewer: The complete collapse in passenger numbers due to the coronavirus brought with it a massive reduction in air traffic. At the same time, freight forwarders were and still are urgently searching for available transport capacities. How did you experience this unprecedented upheaval from your perspective in a “front-row seat”?

Stavros Evangelakakis: When lockdown measures and travel restrictions advised by the governments were introduced, many passenger airlines (PAX) were grounded resulting in a shortage of belly-hold capacity. Cargo airlines such as Cargolux were then highly solicited to fill the vacuum in the market. In order to respond to market requirements, we also streamlined our operation and optimized our network throughout the year to adapt to the global flow of goods.

With the first lockdowns, many PAX carriers halted or reduced their flight schedules significantly, causing a lot of “belly” capacity to vanish from the airfreight market. Being a freight-only airline was surely a big advantage, but how did you manage to handle the sheer amount of new requests? How did you respond to the sudden rise of desperately needed shipments?

As international flights became scarce, our airline provided an air bridge between Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Cargolux and its teams worked tirelessly to keep goods flowing despite the circumstances and leveraged our expertise and flexibility to keep goods flying. Numerous charter flights were organized to destinations beyond our network to ensure populations were equipped to face the pandemic. The team demonstrated immense flexibility and this approach enabled the company to respond to the increased demand. The network was adapted to pressing requirements and capacity was optimized to ensure the supply chain kept moving as efficiently as possible.

Did Cargolux have some kind of contingency plan ready for a pandemic scenario of this magnitude?

Cargolux very quickly established a business continuity committee to analyze the situation as it unfolded worldwide and devise appropriate measure to keep employees safe while ensuring the operation continued despite changing restrictions.

In plain words: What are the most important things to consider when transporting pharmaceutical goods, especially the several coronavirus vaccines that are already approved for use worldwide? Did you come across any unexpected challenges in transporting the vaccines?

The key for seamless transport is to offer adequate transport solutions tailored to each shipment’s requirements. Our customers’ needs are our first priority and we must work hand in hand to find the optimal service for all shipments. The initial predictions about millions of vaccines requiring aerial transport across the globe did not materialize. The vaccine production sites are not equipped to respond to the global demand at once and due to the location of these sites, many transports are done by road.
Cargolux has proven expertise in the handling and transport of healthcare commodities such as vaccines. The transport of the COVID-19 vaccine itself is regular business for Cargolux. The real challenges lie in the logistics around the flight such as appropriate storage at the correct temperature.

How did you manage your flight plans during these challenging times? Were there any hard decisions to make, like choosing between important PPE/healthcare transports or a badly needed automotive parts shipment to prevent factory downtime?

The air cargo industry experienced sustained demand while the travel restrictions imposed throughout the network generated considerable challenges. Nevertheless, Cargolux strived to find the best solutions to continue delivering vital supplies where they were needed. The network was continuously assessed and adapted to continue providing service excellence to customers worldwide.

Offering a Wide Range of Air Cargo Services

cargo-partner started as an airfreight specialist at Vienna Airport in 1983. Since its beginnings, the company has not only grown considerably, but also forged many lasting partnerships which have significantly contributed to the international logistics provider’s success. One of these is the close and reliable partnership with Cargolux. Thanks to this cargo-partner's customers benefit from a seamless network with the highest safety and quality standards.


“The transport of the COVID-19 vaccine itself is regular business for Cargolux. The real challenges lie in the logistics around the flight such as appropriate storage at the correct temperature.”

On the challenges that have to be taken into account during pharmaceutical transports.

“We also streamlined our operation and optimized our network throughout the year to adapt to the global flow of goods.”

Stavros Evangelakakis recalls the company's reaction to the global outbreak.

At the height of the numerous lockdowns, a number of PAX carriers announced that they had returned certain routes to their schedules as “freight only” – with rather daring solutions, such as removing rows of seats from their passenger cabins. Did you see these types of flights as competition?

Aircraft flying as ‘preighters’ have helped to maintain a certain part of the supply chain along with a strong reliance on cargo carriers. Towards the end of March/Apr 2020, we were one of the few airlines in Europe still flying and establishing a vital air bridge between Europe and other parts of this world. 

While the world was in lockdown, there was an e-commerce boom: consumers were ordering goods online, further reducing available air cargo capacities. Did this development affect Cargolux’ airfreight operations in some way?

We felt how the demand increased overall and we adapted our operation to respond to the high demand. We also provided charter services when required to keep the supply chain moving.

Cargolux and cargo-partner are linked by a close and long-standing partnership. How do you see the cooperation between the two companies – and how does working with a medium-sized logistics provider like us differ from working with the “giants” of the industry?

There are no small or giant customers, but customers who have individual transportation requirements which we try to accommodate. cargo-partner has steadily developed over the years in our network, we are happy about this development and look forward continue expanding this relationship.

In regard to passenger transport, the aviation industry has undergone an immense transformation in the past decade: Flight status updates in real time, online booking systems, self-check-in and the elimination of paper tickets and related processes. On the other hand, the airfreight industry is said to lag behind when it comes to digitalization. Did the pandemic accelerate this development?  

The air cargo industry is known to be cautious when it comes to innovation and technological advancement. In recent years, the tendency has somewhat changed, and the pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital processes. IT is the key to ensure the perennity of air cargo in the long-term and Cargolux has heavily invested in digital tools to remain at the forefront of the industry. Our company places a strong focus on streamlining processes and promoting a lean and agile business model.

Thank you for the interview!