Cheese, salami, fish, tomatoes and radicchio lettuce. These were the Italian perishable goods that were on board the inaugural Cathay Pacific Cargo freighter service from Milan, which took off in August 2002, some 20 years ago. There was even some main deck space for a couple of supercars to add some more Italian pizazz. The MXP service went on to be a long-standing success, but two and a half years ago the service was put on hiatus as a result of the pandemic.
For Alberto Brandi, Area Cargo Manager Italy and Spain, the past couple of years have been very tough. ‘We have had to work hard to help our customers find alternative solutions because of this emergency that caught everyone unawares,’ says Brandi, who was Cargo Services Supervisor back in 2002 when Cathay Pacific’s Milan freighters started. ‘We’ve done our best to continue to offer the service requested by our customers – with less space than we had available previously in the past, but we’ve always tried to deliver.’
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, that included a series of around-the-world freighter services using a Boeing 777 cargo-only aircraft that crossed the Atlantic from Pittsburgh in the US, stopping in Milan on the way back to Hong Kong. ‘These cargo-only passenger services were a good opportunity, and gave us a breath of fresh air as we were able to uplift goods from our valued customers at a difficult time,’ adds Brandi.
Happily, air cargo capacity has started to return to Italy. The freighter service was re-established earlier in the summer, followed more recently by the return of passenger services to Milan offering more belly space, as a result of the adjustments of restrictions in Hong Kong.
‘The resumption of operations has been warmly welcomed because there has been a general shortage of capacity in the Italian market,’ says Brandi. ‘We’ve been able to keep our good reputation, so we immediately found a great deal of interest from our customers to use our passenger belly capacity – especially for the perishable products and valuables for the Hong Kong market, where a regular schedule and reliability are a must.’
And while the market may be softening in global terms, the pent-up air cargo demand from northern Italy – the nation’s industrial heartland – is strong. ‘Demand is flourishing,’ says Brandi. ‘We currently have a vast portfolio of different types of shipments. The historic perishable traffic remains, as does component imports for Italian manufacturing, and our fashion brands are the undisputed premium of Italian exports.’
There are also opportunities for outsized shipments using Expert LIFT which are exciting Brandi. ‘We have a great possibility in this strong manufacturing market to ship things of considerable size: these include turbines for the mining industry in Australia, as well as our cars, of course. It’s an opportunity to export our manufacturing excellence all over the world.’
After a difficult two-year period, Brandi is convinced that success will grow again quickly: in terms of adoption of online booking platform Click & Ship, Italy tops the continent. He adds that the team has learned to adapt quickly to challenges and demands. ‘Cathay Pacific Cargo is a strategic partner for our customers, now more than ever,’ he says. ‘Our mission is to continue to support our customers and offer a quality service, but above all I think it is our agility that distinguishes us as one of the most important cargo carriers to Asia.’
After 20 years of helping to develop that reputation, there speaks a man who knows.