Meet the Customer: Brendan O’Mara

Aramex Ireland Air Product Manager Brendan O’Mara on the growing export opportunities from Ireland to Hong Kong

Tell us about yourself.

I was born in Dublin and having finished school, my first job was as a scaffolding representative. Then, after a year, I decided to reach greater heights and ended up in the freight industry. I started out doing customs clearance in Dublin Airport, Dublin port and on the Border with Northern Ireland. These were the days without email, mobile phones, faxes and we relied on Telex – how things have changed! My 40-year journey in this sector has led me to some great companies. I started in 1977 at a company called Clyde Shipping, and moved on from there to other companies including Reindear Shipping, Bective Air Cargo, Genesis/Toll and I’ve now been with Aramex for over five years.

Aramex was set up in the 1980s, and it is abbreviated from Arab American Express Company. Initially a major express parcel and courier company, it has evolved into a US$2bn logistics and forwarding company. It is headquartered in Dubai and listed on the Dubai Stock Exchange. It opened in Ireland in 2006 through the acquisition of a local freight forwarder.

What are the main shipments and flows?

At Aramex Ireland, we airfreight a lot of general cargo, electronics and aircraft parts. We also handle a lot of perishables, particularly live seafood to Asia, Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. These shipments comprise, lobsters, crayfish, razor clams, oysters and crab – a lot of crab.

We also airfreight pharma to the Middle East, Asia and Australia, and again we prefer to use Cathay Pacific for this as well. The CEIV Pharma accreditation helps – it is an advantage. Previously, we have had routed pharma  via other transit points, and there have been occasional excursions because of high temperatures, so it is much better using the direct flight from Dublin to Hong Kong for the Asia/Australian market.

We are starting to see demand for fresh meat as well. In fact, we just shipped premium Dexter meat to Hong Kong for a high-end cookery competition in Macao.

In terms of imports, we have a lot of electronics coming in from the Greater Bay Area of Southern mainland China, which is trucked into Hong Kong and flown out from there. These are components for assembly here in Ireland, and these work out to be 1,000 to 3,000kg per shipment.

Is seafood a growth area?

It’s a good market and it has grown a lot, but it’s a challenging one because if the weather is bad then the boats don’t go out. Hong Kong is one of the biggest destinations for seafood itself. Hong Kong probably gets between 20,000 to 30,000kg of seafood from Ireland by air each week.

When I started in the forwarding industry all that time ago, we started doing seafood, but only to Europe. We could never get into the Asian market – not because there wasn’t demand, but because the transfers made it impracticable. The product just wouldn’t last the journey time.

The first breakthrough was with oysters – they were the first product to go from Ireland to Asia. They have a lifespan of seven to 10 days if you keep them chilled. We used to truck them to the UK, and then fly them out from Heathrow to Hong Kong.

Then, about seven years ago, the Gulf carriers started flying to Dublin, and that basically offered us 24 to 30 hours port to port, which was an opportunity to move live crab, lobsters and razor clams. It was a game changer, and it’s interesting that just one flight can trigger these things.

Prior to that, we were doing maybe five tonnes a week going out to mainland China and Hong Kong. Now, and with the Cathay Pacific flights, we project this to be more than 50 tonnes a week. But a lot depends on the weather.

What difference has the Cathay Pacific flight from Dublin made?

You could have goods basically packed tonight, on the flight tomorrow morning at midday and in Hong Kong for 6.30am the following morning and in the market for lunch that day. Whereas, with the other airlines, there is an extra 24 hours or so. It’s reduced the mortality rate of live produce immensely. We had issues before with an airline that didn’t transfer the goods in time, and they got delayed by 24 hours and we had 80 per cent mortality.

What do you like most about your job?

The challenge of getting a product to where it needs to be within a timeframe – every day is a challenge. I think the highlight for all of us has been to see the shellfish market develop into the international industry it is today. Our part and that of our partner Cathay Pacific has achieved this fantastic success story.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Golf, socialising and walking my dog. We have a forwarding association that holds numerous events during the year. We’re a very competitive industry, but we still get together. There are about 60 to 70 forwarders in Ireland, so you deal with everyone and get to know everyone. It’s a small community. At home, I’m married and have three daughters and a full social life. My middle daughter is getting married later this year and that is the project that’s preoccupying me at the moment!