Polar Air Cargo on future proofing its business

In this interview, Polar Air Cargo's Lars Winkelbauer gives us a glimpse into the express airline's operations, and its future-proofing strategy.


Air & Cargo Services air cargo Air Cargo Asia air cargo freight Air Forwarding air freight Air Freight Asia Air Freight Logistics air freighter air freighting Air Logistics Asia Air Shipping Asia airlines cargo airways cargo asia cargo news cargo aviation CEIV Pharma DHL Lars Winkelbauer Polar Air Cargo


Whilst the media frenzy surrounding the transport and distribution of vaccines and much needed supplies has simmered down as of late, some air cargo operators are quietly and carefully mapping out their post-pandemic, future-proof strategies with the customer in mind. One operator taking the next step towards transformation is Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, which began its evolution prior to the pandemic and steadfastly continued throughout the past year.

Ecommerce and express contribute to its business as an operator for DHL Express, along with raw goods and materials for manufacturers, and seasonal perishables.  Polar Air Cargo is now putting its cold-chain management expertise to work in the sensitive air transport of pharmaceuticals, and achieved its CEIV Pharma certification in May this year.

Payload Asia talks to Lars Winkelbauer, EVP and chief operating officer for Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, as he shares what the industry certification means for the company, where it is investing its resources, as well as the express operator’s long-term strategy, which includes charging stations for airside electric vehicles and a brief comment on the prospect of drones.

Lars Winkelbauer, EVP and chief operating officer at Polar Air Cargo Worldwide

What is Polar Air Cargo’s long-term strategy?

As part of our multiyear “future proofing” strategy, Polar is strategically engaged in digital transformation, workforce evolution and sustainability efforts. Our goal is to become the most customer-centric air cargo carrier in the world, powered by an engaged, forward-thinking workforce that leverages digitization to exceed expectations, and engages in sustainable practices to minimize our impact on the environment. Our “future proofing” strategy is supported by three pillars.

Digital transformation: At Polar, the journey to digitization is centered on rolling out integrated tools that make it easier for the crews to do their jobs, for customers to place and track orders, and for leadership to review true, good data in order to make even better business decisions. Digital tools enhance processes allowing our teams to be more efficient with certain tasks like building up non-standard cargo loads; provide better visibility to our customers on the movements of their cargo; and overall reduce chance for error. For example, e-airway bills reduce the need for manual duplication of information as cargo can pass through multiple changes in custody over the course of its journey.

“Polarfied” workforce: Evolving how we train, how we empower our teams, and broadening the roles and skill sets we leverage, not only for the jobs of today but in preparation for the roles of tomorrow. The key to bringing about this Polar’s Future Proofing transformation is keeping the entire workforce involved and engaged in every step. Two-way communication with staff and the extended contractor staff teams is as important as relationships with customers and the care and custody of their cargo. Our new Polarfied training modules sharpen not only skills necessary for current processes and procedures but offer our colleagues the opportunity to deepen expertise, broaden knowledge, gain exposure to different areas of the business and industry, and provide access to various personal and professional development and growth resources.

Sustainability: Taking responsibility for safeguarding the environment is part of Polar’s DNA. We are focused on sustainable business practices, reduction in carbon emissions and improving environmental conditions around the world. Our efforts include operating a fleet of energy efficient electric and hybrid vehicles on the ground, leveraging digital tools rather than paper wherever possible, employee-led initiatives in our facilities globally—everything from adjusting thermostats, installing energy efficient light bulbs, stepping up our recycling efforts and planting trees in the communities where we live and work.

Of course, this is all supported by investments in our facilities and infrastructure, including warehouse improvements and expansions to meet the growing needs of our customers, investments in cold carts to further support perishable shipments including pharmaceuticals, and the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.

Tell us about the company’s operations? What are your typical routes/lanes?

Polar Air Cargo is a global air freight leader in time-definite, airport-to-airport scheduled air cargo service. We serve destinations around the world through regularly scheduled flights, including Cincinnati (CVG), Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), Sydney (SYD), Seoul (ICN), Shanghai (PVG), Hong Kong (HKG), Bahrain (BAH) and Leipzig (LEJ).

What types of shipments are you moving the most volume of? And, where are the bulk of Asia Pacific inbound and outbound shipments going?

As an express carrier, ecommerce makes up a big portion of our business. We also carry fragile components and raw materials for a lot of electronics—the glass for example that probably makes up your smartphone or tablet screen. In addition we are known for exceptional transport of temperature sensitive cargo—perishables like produce including cherries; and now we have achieved IATA CEIV Pharma certification, an industry standard that underscores our commitment to maintaining the cold chain during the transport of critical temperature sensitive cargo. The majority of outbound shipments are going intra-Asia, US and Europe.

What does the CEIV Pharma certification mean for Polar?

CEIV Pharma is a quality certification program developed by IATA that has established high standards for safe air transport of pharmaceuticals around the world to ensure product integrity.

Polar’s CEIV Pharma certification affirms the company’s long-standing track record for successfully transporting temperature-sensitive goods like produce and other perishable commodities. I am immensely proud of the Polar team for achieving this industry-leading certification, underscoring our ability to maintain end-to-end temperature-controlled shipments across our network. With the increase in demand for cold-chain transportation tied to vaccines and the equipment needed for safe distribution, our customers can continue to rely on Polar’s expertise around the world.

How do you see the air cargo industry evolving to meet the future needs of customers?

From our perspective, customers want exceptional service, transparency into the movements of their cargo and they want to engage with sustainable, environmentally responsible business partners. That is the crux of our journey to “future proofing”—all the steps we are taking in our long-term strategic plan are done with the customers’ ultimate needs in mind. The digital transformation of our industry is critical to better serving our customers—it will provide better transparency, a better-informed network, more accurate data in real-time, and ultimately drive the most sustainable practices.

Are airlines paying more attention now to cargo given the current health crisis?

I think passenger airlines have been paying attention to cargo for quite some time. Carrying passengers in the cabin and cargo in the belly has been a good model for them, especially with the growth of ecommerce. Cargo has been a healthy contributor to the bottom line for passenger airlines for many years.

Where is Polar Air Cargo in terms of flying unmanned aerial vehicles? Are you looking at the potential of drones for domestic or short-haul charters?

This is a great question—I think every forward-thinking player in this space has to be thinking about this right now. Of course, there are so many factors that have to be addressed before this is a reality—regulation will be critical. I for one am excited about the prospect of that chapter for aviation and the supply chain.



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