Panalpina How do you deliver a helicopter?

Ever wondered how helicopters get delivered from their place of manufacture to where they will operate? The obvious answer is they are flown there. But that isn’t always so. More often they are shipped, either via sea or air freight, to the country where they will operate. But how do you get something so big to where it needs to go? We turned to Juerg Boschung, head of Heliship for Swiss-based global logistics and freight forwarding company Panalpina, and a man who has been shipping helicopters for over 25 years, to give us all the answers…

Why can’t you just fly a helicopter to where it needs to go?
Well, in many cases, our customers could fly their helicopters to the destination, but it can actually be more expensive than shipping them. Also, once oceans have to be crossed, only a few of the bigger helicopters can safely attempt ‘ferry flights’ and usually those routes are not very direct. They involve a lot of island hopping.

Tell us about the first time you shipped a helicopter.
The first one, which was before I joined Panalpina, came quite unexpectedly. We had worked on and secured a contract from a major helicopter operator to deliver spare parts from Vancouver to many bases overseas and had only been shipping those parts for a few months when one afternoon I got a phone call: “Juerg, we need to ship a Sikorsky S61 from Thailand to Long Beach”.

How do you get a helicopter inside a plane?
This depends on the type of helicopter and cargo aircraft. For small and medium sized helicopters, the customer’s or manufacturer’s engineers will usually dismantle the helicopters partially and prepare it for shipment by 747 Freighter ? the Boeing 747 Freighter is the most suitable freighter used by scheduled carriers. The loading of the helicopters is usually through the side door. The helicopter is loaded onto airline pallets which are then put on the main deck loader, from where the roller bed system in the 747F is used to move the helicopter into the proper position inside the freighter.

Loading larger, or ‘heavy’, helicopters into an Antonov An-124 is a completely different thing. Much less dismantling is required and the helicopter is being towed by the Antonov loading team into the An-124, using a winch and a cable. The loading crews are very experienced, and it’s amazing how much can be made to fit into this freighter ? they can take up to four ‘heavy’ helicopters or six or seven medium helicopters.

How many helicopters have you shipped in your 25 years of doing it?
I’ve been too busy to count, but it’s definitely in the thousands.

But you ship other stuff as well, or do you sit around waiting for a helicopter that needs delivering?
Well, we don’t just sit around! But in fact my team only ships helicopters, nothing else. We always have helicopters on the move, and are always working on a number of quotes and projects that we hope will materialize soon. In addition to that we try to look ahead and find ways to meet expected needs of the helicopter industry.

What’s the most challenging delivery you’ve had to make?
Many of our moves are quite challenging and it’s not always the largest helicopters that are the most difficult to move. Often it’s the particular circumstances that make for tough moments, like unexpected flight cancellations or engine trouble causing vessel delays. If this happens during a shipment with a delivery deadline, this can be costly. It can also get quite interesting, and potentially costly, when we arrange air charters and a few days before the scheduled load date we are advised that the helicopters are not ready to go yet. We had such a project recently where we had to be quite flexible and a number of critical items only came together literally at the very last minute.

So how do you move a helicopter?
The main thing is detailed planning, considering carefully every step involved and making the required arrangements. It involves not only giving clear and detailed instructions to all subcontractors and offices involved, but then following up to ensure it’s all been understood and arranged. We always work with carefully selected carriers and partner offices overseas. Of course, in many instances we also have one of our specialists attend loading and offloading at ports or airports and hangars. We strive to provide peace of mind to our customers and monitor the movement of their helicopters from hangar to hangar, every step of the way.

Who are your customers?
Our main customers are helicopter companies that operate overseas. The majority used to be companies servicing the oil and gas industry, but that business has taken a downturn. What has picked up is international firefighting, where helicopters from North America are being shipped in October or November to the Southern hemisphere ? like South America or Australia ? to fight forest and bush fires during their summer, and then they return to North America in March and April to protect the forests during the summer there. Other civilian helicopter companies focus on providing support for the allied mission in Afghanistan. Search and Rescue contracts are also an important area where helicopters are required. Of course there are also many other situations where helicopters are being purchased and sold for various purposes, and they then need to be shipped to the new owner.

What’s the biggest number of helicopters you have moved in one go?
I think that was seven helicopters that we moved in one Antonov An-124 from Canada to Africa a number of years back.

How do you know a helicopter is fit to fly after delivery?
The licensed engineer who manages the re-assembly needs to certify this in the log book.

If you ship something by sea, isn’t the ocean spray corrosive to something like a helicopter?
That’s true, but we always request that the helicopters are loaded below deck. And we follow up just before loading to ensure this happens.

Panalpina Air freight on steroids

“At the end of the day you have to know exactly what you’re doing and deliver with speed and consistency.” ? Lucas Kuehner, Panalpina’s global head of Air Freight, on e-commerce air freight. (Photo by Dan Hadfield, Unsplash)
As the growth of e-commerce continues to drive international air freight, Panalpina’s global head of Air Freight, Lucas Kuehner, talks e-fulfilment and “air freight on steroids.”

“It started off as a chance conversation between two Panalpina colleagues: one in Amsterdam, the other in Shenzhen,” begins Kuehner. He’s talking about e-commerce, e-fulfillment and air freight. And you can tell he is excited. “We really value and encourage forward-thinking ideas at Panalpina, and these two guys gave us something that no other third-party logistics provider currently offers ? they gave us air freight on steroids.”

It’s a phrase Kuehner uses repeatedly during the next half hour. “I call it air freight on steroids because that is exactly what it is,” he says. “So, consider this: you are in e-commerce, you need to use international air freight. That’s where we come in. We offer full ULD collection, of course, and destination handling. Nothing unusual in that. But in Hong Kong and Amsterdam we now have bulk customs clearance. Bulk customs clearance,” he says it again, slowly and for emphasis. “That is absolutely unique. Nobody else does this. And then, of course, after the bulk customs clearance and pre-sorting at destination, we re-inject the goods into the supply chain for onward distribution.”

In the Netherlands

The advent of this air freight on steroids could not be better timed. With Panalpina posting record results last year for air freight, the company is very aware that the growing e-commerce industry will also positively impact its business, particularly as it is the only global player active in the Dutch cross border e-commerce market.

“Amsterdam Airport Schiphol gives us a fantastic foothold to deliver across Europe, and the bulk customs clearance together with the fact that we receive the shipments directly without going through a ground handler, allow for a quick delivery.”

This is vital within e-commerce. For the likes of Amazon and Alibaba, after their customers have clicked ‘buy’ everything after that is wasted time. While instant gratification ? in the shape of immediate delivery ? might not be possible, shaving time from an already-quick delivery is imperative.

And South China

E-commerce is the fastest growing sector driving global air freight volumes, and South China, where Panalpina has a dedicated Chinese-speaking, e-commerce team in place, is a key origin. “While it is difficult to put a precise number on e-commerce air freight, because it is not officially labelled as such, we have gone from zero to an estimated 20,000 tons in only two years. The actual figure is likely to be higher. We’ve managed exceptionally well to meet the expectations of big marketplaces and their suppliers, the latter being our most important e-commerce customers,” explains Kuehner. In addition to volume growth, Panalpina is focusing on expanding e-commerce transportation to other trade lanes including the transpacific route to the USA and to other European destinations.

Global peak season for e-commerce

“We have definite peaks in e-commerce, which has an impact on our air freight operations,” says Kuehner. “For example, with big dates like Cyber Monday, Black Friday and Singles’ Day all happening in November, it gets incredibly busy.” While Cyber Monday and Black Friday are traditionally US events, and Singles’ Day is thought of as a Chinese occasion, Kuehner argues that you can see these are growing into global shopping events, with the air freight volumes to prove it.

“Those peaks are welcome, of course, and they aren’t going to go away. But we also have to be mindful of our other customers. We cannot allow their operations to be affected by a tsunami of e-commerce.”

How does Panalpina manage that? “It’s quite simple,” says Kuehner, “we talk to our customers and let them know that space is going to be at a premium from November onwards, and that it is unlikely to get any quieter until February. We do all we can to communicate this, and we also pre-procure additional flights for the busiest lanes. “But if you want to guarantee space, you have to book early.”

Preparation is key for Panalpina

If November is the busy time for air freight, the months leading up to that are the busy ones for Kuehner and his global team. “Yes, now is the time to have all the planning in place,” he says. “And this market will get bigger not only because of the big existing e-commerce platforms, but others will have to follow suit too. Traditional stores are also increasingly turning to e-commerce, and to air freight.” In its classic role as a consolidator, Panalpina is also interesting for these smaller e-commerce customers.

“It’s not rocket science what we do. We own no assets ? we orchestrate everything. But at the end of the day you have to know exactly what you’re doing and deliver with speed and consistency. That includes staying on top of customs and security regulations, because nothing can go wrong,” concludes Kuehner

Panalpina opens new logistics center in Singapore

Panalpina, the Swiss freight forwarding and logistics company, has opened a new, purpose-built logistics center in Singapore. Strategically located at Pioneer View, the new facility is constructed over six floors and offers 25,800 m2 of usable warehouse space, which is equivalent to 3.5 FIFA-standard football pitches.

Speaking at the official opening of the facility, Panalpina CEO Stefan Karlen said: “Singapore is a very important consolidation hub for ocean and air freight. The nation-state is investing in the expansion of its ports, and a fifth runway is under construction at Changi Airport.” Karlen also stressed that 96 of Panalpina’s top 100 global customers have a base in Singapore.

“Against this backdrop, Panalpina plans to offer Air and Ocean Freight services including value-added logistics services to companies, particularly in the energy, healthcare, high tech, manufacturing, consumer and retail, as well as fashion industries.”

The majority of the space of the multi-purpose facility is already rented out to customers, and Karlen was keen to underline the importance of technologies to the Singapore facility, as well as to the company as a whole.

Panalpina plans to test and use many new technologies in Singapore, including the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality, and various automation systems. The new facility could also run 3D printers on behalf of customers, meaning it could one day become a hub for distributed manufacturing.

Karlen, who himself was once based in Singapore, took the time to meet and chat with Panalpina’s front-line staff, as well as with attending dignitaries, including His Excellency, Mr Fabrice Filliez, Swiss Ambassador to Singapore.

Aftersales supply chain: Kuehne + Nagel further expands its global services for BMW Group

New Regional Distribution Centers (RDC) in Kleinaitingen (Germany) and Słubice (Poland), Dealer Distribution from Beijing and Shanghai (China)
Serving dealers in China, Germany and Austria as well as Poland
Kuehne + Nagel and BMW Group partner in 14 locations all over the world

Perfect aftersales services are crucial within the premium automotive market. In order to permanently fulfil increasing customer expectations and minimising waiting time, the aftersales supply chain must ensure best in class level. Kuehne + Nagel and the BMW Group expand their partnership with two new distribution centres in Germany and Poland and dealer distribution from the two main BMW RDCs in China, all of them focus markets for the German premium class car manufacturer.

The long lasting partnership between the BMW Group and Kuehne + Nagel can now count on 14 major locations around the globe with a consolidated presence in China.

Gianfranco Sgro, member of the Managing Board of Kuehne + Nagel International AG, responsible for Contract Logistics: “Focusing on dynamic industries such as automotive is part of our 2022 roadmap. It is our clear goal to further increase our automotive footprint globally. Therefore, we continuously develop innovative solutions for the aftersales market. The extension of our global services for BMW Group is an important milestone. Partnering with BMW always means to push innovation to the next level in operations, data management, visibility and transparency and end customer centricity. We are delighted to provide our competence to our longstanding customer BMW Group at two more sites in Europe and to expand our services for BMW Brilliance Automotive in China.”

With a size of 70.000 sqm, the RDC in Kleinaitingen is one of the largest distribution centers Kuehne + Nagel manages for the BMW Group. It serves more than 300 dealers all over Southern Germany and Western Austria. Kuehne + Nagel is responsible for physically receiving and handling of incoming goods, storage, picking dealer’s orders, packaging, and shipping. An assortment of around 82.000 articles is stored, with around 23.000 daily outbound deliveries handled.

With initially 30.900 sqm and an expansion option of 10.700 sqm, the new warehouse in Slubice substitutes the existing RDC in Poland with a size of 15.000 sqm. Required due to the strong growth especially of the Polish market, it serves about 125 dealers in North-Eastern Germany and about 35 in Poland.

The RDC dealer distribution by road and air from Beijing and Shanghai will provide daily spare parts deliveries to 340 dealers in North,Central and Eastern China. Shipment data is guaranteed through Kuehne + Nagel’s Oracle transportation management system.