Taking the lead at the terminal

We catch up with CPSL Chief Operating Officer Mark Watts, whose experience with the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal dates back to before it was even built

The Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal at Hong Kong International Airport is operated by the Group’s wholly owned subsidiary, Cathay Pacific Services Limited (CPSL). Cargo Clan caught up with Mark Watts as he settles into his new role as Chief Operating Officer for CPSL.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve worked for the Cathay Pacific Group for 16 years across a wide variety of functions, including sales, procurement, operations and employee relations, usually on the commercial side of the business. Before joining Cathay I worked in inflight entertainment and communications (for the then publishers of Cargo Clan), and funnily enough, Cathay was always my customer. So although I’ve worked in Cathay for 16 years, I’ve worked with Cathay for well over 20 years!


What is your previous experience with Cargo?

One of my first roles at Cathay was as Head of IT Procurement and we worked on a number of Cathay Cargo projects, including the IT systems for the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal. That was when the terminal was still in the planning and design phase, so you could say I’ve been involved with the terminal right from the very beginning!

More recently when I worked in Flight Crew Relations, I got to see first-hand just how dedicated and professional Cathay Pacific’s freighter flight crew are. I continue to be in awe of the professionalism of all Cathay’s pilots and the way they have handled the challenges of the ever-changing rules and restrictions to keep cargo flying.


What are your first impressions in your new role?

We have a great team of seasoned professionals who really understand the cargo terminal business and who also always look at things from the customer’s perspective. This is a key reason for our exceptional operational performance; our service levels really are second to none. We moved more than 125 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the terminal last year and our end-to-end processing time is down to six minutes for imports and four minutes for transhipments, which is really impressive.

How important is innovation to the business?

Innovation is built into CPSL’s DNA. The reason I say that is because we built a cargo terminal with a large capacity on a relatively small piece of land by using a multiple level structure, with a fantastically advanced material handling system at its core. Because of this DNA, we continue to push ourselves to innovate today.

We’ve just introduced MobiFresh, which is an IoT-enabled (internet of things) cold chain solution that ensures that temperature-sensitive shipments are kept at the right temperature during their time in the terminal. These are mobile containers with a variable temperature range that we can control remotely, and we can track their location too. As they’re mobile we can move them to the nearest truck dock for collection and so on. They are custom-built to our design by a local manufacturer. It’s another example of the importance we place on innovation and real customer solutions.


How is the terminal dealing with the pandemic?

The impact of COVID-19 continues to be the biggest immediate challenge, especially with the number of cases in Hong Kong now rising. We have always put the health and safety of our people first. We deploy small teams working in segregated areas, and there is constant cleaning and disinfecting to keep the terminal safe. Our frontline workers all have to be tested every two days and can only work at the terminal with a negative result. I am extremely grateful for them for their compliance with all of our regulations at the terminal while still maintaining the service for which we are known.

The other issue that flows from the pandemic is that Cathay Pacific’s cargo capacity is down at the moment, because of the restrictions on flight crew.


How has that affected business?

Tonnage through the terminal has been impacted, although we have been very successful in bringing in new business – we welcomed 14 new customers to the terminal over the past year and a further two new customers so far in 2022. This has definitely helped. We will always have sufficient capacity for Cathay Pacific, but it is also important for us to develop new customers and service lines – as we are currently doing with charter airlines.

What about the long term?

One of the big focus areas for us is the Greater Bay Area (GBA) of the southern Chinese Mainland, where much of the cargo exported from Hong Kong is produced. The Hong Kong Airport Authority has announced plans for a full scale Hong Kong logistics park in Dongguan from 2025 and we are planning to launch intermodal handling services from Dongguan later this year in preparation, shipping cargo between Dongguan and Hong Kong via sea. We also have a trucking service called CBX (which stands for Cross Border Express) allowing us to offer onbound transportation from Hong Kong to multiple destinations in the GBA. That’s a business that has done well for us during the pandemic and we’d like to develop it further.

Beyond geographic expansion and continuous improvement at the terminal, we are also examining how can we leverage our unique strengths into other related areas. And we’re obviously aligning ourselves with the Cathay Pacific Cargo team and maximising opportunities to work closely with them on e-commerce, for example.

We are also relaunching our corporate strategy. Our vision, which will sound familiar to those who are familiar with Cathay Pacific Cargo’s, is to be the world’s most customer-centric cargo terminal services provider. We want to benchmark ourselves with the world’s very best.


Outside of work, what are your interests and priorities?

Time with my family, who are primarily based here in Hong Kong – though my eldest son is currently preparing for his A levels at school in England. Obviously, a lot of Hong Kong activities are not really available at the moment, but I do enjoy hiking. The wonderful trails here are definitely one of Hong Kong’s hidden assets. Beyond that, I’m a keen reader and a bit of a movie buff, so I like to catch up on new releases and revisit old classics. And I’m big fan of Hong Kong cinema too.