Move it Like…
Nick Platts, Heathrow Cargo

Company profile

How did your role at Heathrow
come about?

I came to the airport in January 2012 working in the operational team. I was looking after the 400 companies on the airfield, which exposed me to the handling side of the business. Then, in May 2015, I moved into commercial to become the Head of Cargo. 2015 was a real transitionary year where we were doing a lot of work around developing the cargo strategy and engaging with industry. That meant a lot of consultations and workshops and meeting with forwarders, industry associations, handlers, airlines, trucking companies and more. Through that phase, the role changed and I found myself looking after the air cargo operation at Heathrow.

What’s it like working at Heathrow?

I’ve worked for industry, government, in different sectors, there is nothing quite as fast-paced as an airport especially one the size of Heathrow – there’s just no downtime. Whereas industry has cycles which ebb and flow, the airport runs full tilt every day of the year. Although we have 75,000 people working at the airport, only 6,500 are employed directly by Heathrow, so it’s a very big job to run one of the most complicated airports in the world.

One of the most complicated airports
in the world?

Yes, geographically. To move the number of people, the number of aeroplanes and the amount of freight that we do, through this small geographic space is nothing short of complex. If you consider the relative size of the world’s major airports – we are physically smaller than Hong Kong, JFK, Frankfurt and Paris – and considering the number of passengers and the number of flight movements that we got through a space that is the relative size of a postage stamp when compared to the other airports, it’s phenomenal. If you then add in regulation and the legal requirements that we have to satisfy which are unique to the UK it gets really complicated.

How do you make strategic decisions?

It’s not a traditional business where you can wake up one morning and implement strategic decisions, it takes years. For most infrastructure projects at the airport, we work on an average 8-10 year cycle. The cargo strategy was designed following engagement and consultation with the industry to understand their needs and demands going forward and determining how best we can meet these. By the end of the year, I hope to evolve the strategy further.

How do you plan ahead?

The tricky part for me is thinking about what the industry will be doing in ten years’ time so that I can cater for any big changes. We’ve got disruptors coming into the marketplace now, so I have to ask myself what’s it going to look like in the future and what do I need to plan for our infrastructure? That’s where the complexity comes from – talking to all the different actors, pulling together all these competing needs and then working internally within Heathrow to come up with a solution that works for everybody.

What does your sales strategy look like?

Our sales strategy is a 15-year plan which I’ve broken down into 5-year segments. The ambition for 2030 is to be the best in Europe, for cargo, in offering predictable cargo services. We’ll never be the biggest, we physically can’t do it geographically. The first five years will be spent fixing what I characterise as the front door – fixing operational issues, improving our engagement and getting everyone to communicate. The first target is that by 2020 we meet our ambition to be the preferred trans-Atlantic gateway in Europe. The second five-year chunk is all about process improvement where we start to leverage those infrastructure and process changes. The third five-year chunk is right into the continuous improvement cycle where we’re engineering minutes out of the process.

How do you run such a complex operation?

That’s where our people come in – we’ve got brilliant, diverse and energetic colleagues who somehow make it work. We talk to each other and we work together and although we’re all competing with each other for space, time and money, it works, and it works successfully. The operation over the last 12 months has come along massively, our punctuality is up and so is our customer satisfaction as a result. Now we’ve got to take all of that experience and all those learnings that we’ve taken from the passenger side of the business and turn our attention to cargo.

What is the impact of a third runway?

The main impact of a third runway is that it loosens the constraints we have today due to the fact that we can’t physically get more aircraft on and off the airfield. We’re currently operating at about 98% of capacity so we’re getting quite close to the cap. A third runway allows us to add more destinations, as well as unlocking additional frequency to existing destinations. We exist to connect the shipper with the consumer, the buyer of whatever it is that is being made, so if we can do that more efficiently it works for everybody.

What about domestic flights?

We have committed to work with airlines and government to increase our direct domestic route network to make sure that the UK market has the access it needs. I’d love to connect Newquay, for example, because Cornish crabs get trucked to Heathrow – it would be much better to connect it and take HGVs off the road

What are your thoughts
on autonomous vehicles?

There’s some interesting new technology coming through, we currently run autonomous vehicles between the business car park and Terminal 5, and are involved with further trials to see how they would interact within the airport. It’s a case of figuring out what we need on the airfield for it to benefit our customers. It’s an area of technology that is rapidly developing and we are discussing opportunities available to the cargo community.  Maybe one day we will see autonomous cargo vehicles transporting freight from shed to ramp – who knows?

How do we get more drivers
into the industry?

I think there are issues around pay and conditions that need to be resolved. There is real downward pressure on pay and that’s not attracting people when you compare driving with other well-paid industries. That being said, there is research around ‘millennials’ that says they are less money oriented and more interested in feeling valued. How as an industry do we do that? If you’re out driving a truck for 10 hours a day how do you feel valued? I think that might be key.

How would you approach
the driver shortage?

There are people who want to be drivers but can’t afford a licence so that upfront training cost is a barrier to entry. Especially if you’re talking about a young unemployed person who wants to get into the industry, how do you come up with £1,500 to pay for your licence? Once they have their licence it then becomes an insurance issue for the company that hires them because they don’t have the experience. I’m in talks with the Heathrow Academy about creating a new scheme to combine customer service training with technical driver training to produce a pool of highly-skilled candidates.

What about the wider impact
the airport has?

I think one of the things we need to do is to create a better sense of community around the Heathrow node – we want to bring everybody together to make sure they are all getting what they require. My focus in Heathrow’s cargo strategy is around making the air cargo supply chain as efficient and as predictable as possible but also the cargo ecosystem as well. The impact that the industry has on our neighbours is a concern to us and we want everyone to take responsibility for their own actions. This can be anything from sharing loads to use of low emission vehicles and introducing a code of conduct with the road transport industry.

What are your thoughts on Brexit?

There are risks, but there may be some opportunities, such as exploring Freeports. As a member of the EU or the UCC, we aren’t able to operate Freeports in the UK. After Brexit, this may change and it could make the UK a more attractive destination for light assembly lines and R&D. However, more work needs to be done to look into this.

How do you encourage forwarders
to use Heathrow?

From the conversations I’ve had it’s clear that forwarders need predictability. They need to know that they can trust us for that section of the cargo journey. It’s down to the forwarders to find the most efficient, commercially viable and secure way to move a shipment – that’s their expertise and I’m not going to tell them how to do that. What we can do is make sure the airport system is reliable and predictable.

What change would you like to see?

I want to start a dialogue with the forwarding community where they feel comfortable saying what they think of us and where we need to get to. We’ve got a Chief Executive, shareholders and a board who are all fully supportive in helping to drive this project forward, we just need the buy-in from industry. Whereas there are only 80 or so airlines to manage, there are thousands of forwarders – the scale and complexity of working with industry is something we’re beginning to understand. We want to talk to everybody from the top 25 down to the smaller forwarders because they’ve all got something to add to the conversation.

How can we make that happen?

I’m happy to support, I’m happy to connect people and I’m happy to use the Heathrow brand if it will open doors and make things work, but I need people to come and talk to me and to share their plans with me. If forwarders want money to be invested in making changes there’s got to be a commercial case to make and that’s why I’m asking for them to get involved in the future of Heathrow.

2017-08-09T10:19:39+00:00 April 5th, 2017|Move it Like|