Swissport Tanzania has inaugurated its new import cargo facility at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam last year. The logistics specialist sees a lot of opportunities in Africa's air freight sector amidst the ongoing economic slowdown. In conversation with Twinkle Sahita, Mrisho Yassin, Chief Executive Officer, Swissport Tanzania, speaks about the latest developments of the company and its plans to exploit the potential air freight market in Africa. Edited Excerpts.

How has the year 2016 been for Swissport Tanzania?
The year has been quite good; 2016 was very good for Swissport Tanzania. In Tanzania, we are not only doing cargo services but we also do ground handling business as well and ground handling business was quite good on our side. Cargo was a bit of a challenge because we observed reduction in volume for various reasons. I think around the globe the volumes were quite low especially in Africa but on the other hand in Tanzania, we had a change of government regime and they are actually putting pressure on compliance in the tax payment. Because of that we feel like some of the traders have stopped importing. And our cargo business mostly depends on imports rather than exports. Exports didn't actually do well; so because of that we saw a bit of slowdown in volume and that of course impacted both in terms of revenue and volume. But as I said before ground handling business performed quite well and the gap we had in cargo was covered by the good performance of ground handling.

Could you tell us about your cargo facility at Julius Nyerere International Airport that was launched last year? What are some of the commodities handled in major volume?
We basically constructed modern facilities and this is mostly for imports because we really want to have a proper separation between import and export. Our new facilities, only covering imports, are really state of the art. These facilities bring in a lot of efficiency and allow us to handle cargo in the way it is supposed to be handled. The facilities actually accommodate a number of products, certainly we have cold rooms basically for perishables. We have strong rooms to handle vulnerable items, we have space for general cargo, we have space for dangerous goods, and we have space for human remains, so it's really a complete facility which covers all the products that we handle.

How do you collaborate with your partners in this tightly integrated supply chain?
We have to work closely with the airline because eventually we are providing services to them. We always make sure that we are in touch with our customers to understand their requirements and we design our SOPs (Standard Operative Procedures) to make sure that we're not only meeting the expectation but of course exceeding expectation. On cargo side, we do the same, but in addition to the airline. However, Cargo involves other stakeholders such as freight forwarders who bring in the business. For example, if you are looking at export, they know the farmers, they are in contact with the farmers, and they know the volume that will be coming. So for us, it is very critical to talk to them and find out exactly what is required and out of our discussion we improve our service delivery. What we have been doing in export is purely out of the feedback that we are getting from the airline and of course freight forwarders. In the past year, export was just a room which basically handles everything in that particular room, whether it's meat, fish, or vegetables, we used to store in the same place. But the feedback from airlines and forwarders who wanted these products to be stored separately helped us plan the facility accordingly. Eventually we invested and came up with different rooms. So now we have rooms for meat, we have rooms for flowers, we have rooms for every cargo category. The last phase of investment that we are going to do on export is to preserve the quality of the cold chain product between the time of loading the cargo perishables from the trucks and getting them into the cold room.

How do you see the air freight market in Africa evolving?
For me, all I see there is a lot of potential and we have not exploited the potential that we have in Africa. I know we have a lot to export. For instance, Tanzania we can export a lot but we have not been able to penetrate into the European market or into their developed market and this is what we need to do. As soon as we are able to enter these markets with our good quality produce we should be able to exploit a lot. We in Africa, have a role to play to make sure that the air freight business is growing and it's helping our economy to grow better as well.

What, according to you, does the air freight industry need to do to ensure smooth supply chain?
There is a lot to do in terms of regulation to ensure smooth movement of cargo around both within the continent or outside the continent. The most important thing what we have to do is to improve our processes. For example if you are handling perishable products and your processes are wrong eventually you destroy the product and market won't be happy with that, which eventually is a loss to the market, farmers and a loss to us as a service provider. We need to enhance the way we handle cargo but most importantly we have to continue investing because without having proper facilities in place we cannot actually do that.

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