Air Cargo Management

Rick Elieson: American Airlines focuses on new seasonal routes

Rick Elieson President of Cargo at American Airlines
photo_camera Elieson was named President – Cargo in March 2017

Rick was named president – Cargo of American Airlines in March 2017. He oversees the airline’s cargo business, including operations, customer service, marketing, culture, sales and strategy. Rick joined American Airlines in 1994 and began his career on the Japanese desk in American’s DFW reservations office.

He has led the organisation in revenue management, digital marketing and AA Vacations. Prior to joining Cargo, he led the company’s global partner marketing and the multi-billion-dollar co-branded credit card business. Rick holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M in Commerce.

Rick Elieson, President of Cargo at American Airlines
Elieson was named President – Cargo in March 2017

What does a typical day entail in your job?

The first thing I do is catch up on overnight emails, and then I spend some time reading. I like to start my day by seeding my mind with industry news, as well as a few technology blogs which I keep up with.

I get into the office at 08:00. and review my to-do list. Probably like every business, we generate a lot of daily reports, and this is when I get a chance to review them before meetings kick off at 08:30 or 09:00, and usually run back-to-back until 17:00.

I probably travel 50 per cent of the time and make a point to try and visit with our local sales and operational teams wherever we go. Listening to our team members in the field does a lot to provoke insights about both our business and the culture that we’re fostering.

That is something we’re extremely focused on, especially given the amount of change that we’re asking our teams to embrace in response to our technology investments.

It is a hectic pace for sure, but I don’t think it is different than most people’s schedule. Thankfully I get to do it with a team of fun people, who love what they do, and enjoy working together.

That team dynamic shows up in positive ways over and over – and it breeds an infectious passion for helping one another succeed. It is a very rewarding thing to be a part of. I hope our customers see it too, and I believe it spills over into great customer service.

How did you end up in the aviation industry?

I joined the American team on the Japanese reservations desk. My older brother was working for American Airlines at the time, and called to tell me that he’d heard they were looking for Japanese speakers.

He told me that American was a good company that rewarded bright people who worked hard. I guess he thought I’d fit those criteria.

It’s now been 25 years since I joined American and I am more excited every day. Many people come to the airline because they have a passion for aviation. I confess my path was less intentional, but I am no less passionate about it now.

The ability to travel and experience other cultures is a truly incredible opportunity, and moreover, the ability to share that experience and cultivate a global perspective among my family is a gift without equal.

I am fortunate to have found my way into the cargo business where I continue to learn something new and interesting every day.

The impact that air cargo has in making so much possible – from fresh avocados in your local grocery store, to perfect sushi at a local restaurant, to delivering lifesaving medicines in just hours.

We get to be a part of people’s lives in very meaningful ways, sometimes even making their lives possible at all.

How significant is air cargo at American Airlines?

Air cargo is a significant contributor to the bottom line here at American Airlines. We closed 2018 with record performance, volume and revenue.

Of course, I’m really pleased with these results, but I am especially encouraged by the progress we’re making for the future in other foundational areas of our business– such as growing our fleet, modernising our technology, investing in our team members, and really listening to and making changes that our customers want.

That will pay dividends for years to come and will enable us to deliver a level of service that today requires extraordinary measures.

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

American Airlines Cargo
Air cargo is a significant contributor to the bottom line

We do move a lot of fresh fish. Just a few months ago, we were invited by one of our key customers to Chile to visit a salmon farm and learn first-hand about that business, from breeding, to how they raise the fish, to how they are processed, and how we can best partner with them to protect that investment and improve our services.

I learned more in that couple of days than I had by weeks of online reading. In general, Latin America is a huge export market for perishables. From fish out of Chile to mangoes in Peru, worldwide demand continues to rise, and new business is popping up everywhere.

Once again, we’re coming up on the traditional peak flower season, which is around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, when there will be huge demand on our flights out of Colombia and Ecuador into the US and Europe. Perishables are a product that really benefit from our immense network.

How is the new facility in Milan progressing and how significant is Europe to your cargo strategy?

We opened a new facility in Milan in October of 2018. The new 53,000+ ft2 building handles our daily flights to both our New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA) hubs. Growing cargo volumes from the northern Italian city have increased customer demand for direct services out of Italy to the US.

Some of the most frequently shipped goods from Milan (MXP) include automotive parts, fashion and pharmaceuticals. As one of the largest operators of scheduled widebody aircraft between the US and Europe, with more than 425 flights per week to 58 destinations, you could definitely say Europe is a huge part of our cargo business.

Not to mention the fact that both our cargo and customer teams at MXP won our cargo and customer awards last year. It shows how hard our teams are working, delivering great service to all of our customers, and ensuring Milan remains a key part of our operation.

American Airlines Cargo began introducing new cargo management system by IBS. Is this meeting expectations?

Our iCargo implementation is a multi-year project for us. We are making significant progress with some features going live in 2019 and a full system go-live planned for 2020.

This is a constantly evolving area that requires sustained investment so that we’re competitive and always giving our customers great tools and value. The effort is progressing according to plan and we are excited for what it will mean for our team members and for customers in 2019.

We are seeing more 787s enter the fleet. Have you positioned your international future growth strategy around this fleet?

The 787s are a key component for future growth and they have allowed us to improve the service we offer in several regions. They have performed well for us in cargo and will create even more possibilities as we replace our 767 fleet with additional 787s over the next couple of years.

Have you made any progress towards CEIV certification?

It would be an understatement to say that we’re extremely proud of our temperature-control network.

The CEIV certification programme is simply a new and more advanced way for us to publicly validate the efforts we’ve been focused on for years – like specialised training on the handling of these products and ensuring we have properly equipped facilities at all of our locations.

We’re more than confident in our abilities to offer outstanding temp-controlled services, and we are actively working towards our CEIV certification, beginning with our busiest hubs last year.

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

We continue to focus on improving our customer service. In such a fiercely competitive business, it is sometimes difficult to point to the returns of investing in the customer experience, but I’m convinced that it’s the absolute right lens for anyone who wants to remain in business long term, and I think our customers should expect no less.

One of the most fundamental ways we can improve the product we offer to our customers is by offering more of it and making better use of our capacity.

We’re making significant investments in technology to allow just that, but there are still industry practices that promote less than the most efficient use of carrier capacity that we must work against.

In 2019, we’ll – again – focus attention on our new seasonal routes, which will see growth in the German market. Among the international routes already announced are Philadelphia (PHL) to Berlin Tegel (TXL) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Munich (MUC), which will both operate on a Boeing 787-8 and will be complemented by a year-round Charlotte (CLT) to Munich (MUC) service.

The all-new Dallas to Dublin service operated on a Boeing 787-9 is also of real interest to both the shipper and forwarder communities there.

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