Air Cargo Management

Interview: Jason Berry from Alaska Air Cargo

Alaska Air 737-700 Freighter

Jason Berry provides executive oversight of Alaska Air Cargo, within Alaska Air Group. In his role, Jason engages with Federal and State staff officials regarding policy impacting the cargo business and represents Alaska at trade and industry events.

Prior to his current role, Jason previously served as director, Cargo Operations and Compliance for Alaska Air Group, with responsibility for all aspects of cargooperations within Alaska Air Group and its subsidiaries.

What does a typical day entail in your job?

The first thing I do every morning is to review our performance for the previous day. This is for both commercial and operational metrics.

I want to know where we stand as a business unit, trends that may be developing and areas of opportunity to target. Often this will shape the remainder of the day in terms of where we may be focusing as a leadership team.

The cargo group within Alaska Airlines is comprised of a relatively small cast. We all travel throughout the network extensively and spend a fair amount of time on the road, meeting with customers, staff and vendor partners.

Our entire leadership team is deeply connected to our business. This helps ensure we’re driving the right inputs to deliver results and allows us to help support each other across workgroups.

Outside of our strategic planning, much of what we do on a day-to-day basis is data driven. We analyse just about every transaction and step of the business. Coming from an operational background, I’m keen to be on the ground at the warehouse facilities and on our ramps seeing the cargo move through the supply chain.

With over 100 cargo destinations there’s always something exciting or interesting happening.

Jason Berry Alaska Air Group
Berry says aircraft from Virgin America have opened-up significant opportunity

How did you end up in the industry?

I come from a cargo family. My aunt was a gateway manager for Emery Worldwide and my father was a loadmaster, performing load plans for Emery, Cargolux and several other carriers over his time in the industry.

As a young boy, I would wake up early on the weekends and join my dad on the ramp to watch freighters being loaded. My first job in the industry was at Cargolux Airlines, while I was still in high school.

What was supposed to be a part-time job to save money for college ended up becoming a life-long love affair for the industry. While I never expected to continue down the same path as my family, after nearly 23 years, I couldn’t think of doing anything else.

How significant is air cargo at Alaska Airlines?

Although we make up only a small portion of total revenue, cargo is a very significant part of what our company does. Alaska Airlines began over 85 years ago as a cargo carrier.

To this day, our freighter network in the state of Alaska serves as a lifeline for many remote communities. Aviation is what connects families in Alaska. We help supply food, medicine and many household items that are taken for granted in more populous regions.

Our senior leadership understands how important it is for Alaska Airlines to help support remote communities. This is one of the primary reasons our executives have supported the cargo team through investments in new freighter aircraft.

We remain one of the last combination carriers left in the US because our company has recognised that a combination fleet can help diversify the business while also providing a critical link to remote communities.

Clearly, perishables especially fish, must be a core contribution. What expertise have you gained here?

We take moving perishables seriously. Our teams on the ground understand how important it is to maintain the cool chain. The seafood business relies on our aircraft to get their fresh product to markets across the globe.

The employees at our stations are really dialled in to the seafood business. In many instances it’s their friends or family who are out fishing. Many communities depend on seafood to drive their local economy.

We understand the significance of our role and dedicate a vast amount of resources to ensure this product moves with the utmost care. Our cargo call centre has a dedicated seafood desk that manages all our seafood bookings year-round.

They coordinate belly and freighter space between all our lanes and manage capacity down to the available pound.

Cargo loading on Alaska Air Group

Take us through the freighter fleet and what your fleet strategy is going forward?

We’ve had all three of our new 737-700 freighters operating from March of this year. Since launching the new full freighter fleet schedule, we have seen extremely impressive results in terms of schedule reliability and growth. As far as strategy goes, we’ve set the bar high.

Our goal is to fly our freighters at the same levels as a 700-series passenger fleet. We’re logging over 10.5 hours block time per day on the aircraft. This is fantastic for a narrowbody fleet, especially considering we’re averaging over six daily cycles per airframe.

Building a quality freighter schedule, running it as planned and on time helps distinguish us from the rest of the pack. By leveraging our modern fleet to maximise flying time we’re able to realise a competitive advantage in terms of unit cost and productivity.

The integration with Virgin America is still ongoing. What impact does this have on cargo volumes in the future?

The acquisition brought over 70 additional planes for us to sell belly capacity on. By my estimate, this is likely the single largest influx of domestic cargo capacity in the US in recent history.

It’s not often you get to turn on 70 more aircraft all at once! These Airbus aircraft have provided us with an additional 200 million pounds of annual capacity (with the majority of it being on prime transcontinental routes). The integration has made Alaska Airlines a much larger player in the Lower 48 market.

Between our freighter fleet and the plus -300 narrowbody passenger planes, we have created two very distinct but complimentary networks that feed each other extremely well.

2018 has seen a rise in fuel prices, putting pressure on operating margins. Are you looking at more opportunities for growth on the cargo side?

Alaska Air Cargo
The plan is to fly the freighters at the same levels as the 700 series passenger fleet

We expect to continue to see annualised growth in the state of Alaska with our new freighters. Additionally, the new Airbus aircraft from Virgin America have opened up significant opportunity to expand our domestic presence. We expect continued growth in our passenger bellies over the next three years, as we cultivate and maximise the new capacity.

What’s next in the pipeline at Alaska Airlines Cargo?

Between the launch of our new freighters and the introduction of cargo on the former Virgin America fleet, we’ve had a busy 2018! We are continuing to learn from our new freighter aircraft to best maximise our potential for growing the cargo business.

Right now, our focus remains on creating a sustainable business model that serves our customers and communities to the full extent. Although we expect a slightly quieter 2019, we don’t expect to slow down any time soon.

Next year will be all about filling the available capacity and less about making major changes to the cargo network.

The rollout of our self-service delivery kiosks has been also going well also. We’ve already deployed these across seven destinations and will have five more online by the end of the year.

We do plan to continue to bring more innovation to the cargo world in 2019. Little enhancements such as this help make the customer experience more hassle free.

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