By Megan Fernandes  – Reporter, Pacific Business News

Los Angeles-based Pacific Air Cargo has a large presence in Hawaii. The freight forwarding company Boeing 747 express air cargo service runs between Los Angeles and Honolulu, with onward service to Pago Pago in American Samoa. In 2000, when Beti Ward founded Pacific Air Cargo, Tanja Janfruechte was hired as her assistant and quickly grew more established in the company. Janfruechte was vice president when Ward died in March 2018, and stepped up to fill the roll as president and CEO of Pacific Air Cargo that year. Janfruechte leads a team of more than 100 aviation professionals located in Honolulu and Los Angeles. She spoke with PBN about how its Hawaii operations are coping with Covid-19.

What’s new with the company?

Pacific Air Cargo is growing, in spite of the business challenges resulting from Covid-19. Changes to our operation, brought about by the pandemic, have negatively impacted some aspects of what we do but it has also opened up new opportunities. For example, we have partnered with Kalitta Air so that our Los Angeles International Airport to Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport service on Saturdays no longer returns directly to LAX but instead flies from HNL to Hong Kong, where it then operates a charter flight through Incheon (Seoul) back to LAX. We’ve also increased frequency to the Big Island to fly additional live cattle back to the Mainland. It is this sort of “out of the box” approach to the business that has helped us to navigate the current situation, and also to look for future growth opportunities with a fresh eye.

What trends are you noticing in the industry?

In the past, much of the world’s air freight traveled in the belly holds of passenger aircraft. With the huge reduction in commercial airline activity around the world, and the surge in e-commerce as a result of the pandemic, cargo airlines are seeing increased demand for capacity. For Pacific Air Cargo, that has meant large backlogs of cargo out of LAX, requiring us to regularly operate additional flights to meet the demands of an increasingly hungry Hawaii market. The global demand for additional freighter aircraft currently exceeds supply. The handful of facilities which are capable of converting mothballed passenger aircraft to freighters have their order books filled to capacity right now. As a result, we are seeing some of the commercial airlines flying restricted cargo payloads in their belly holds and passenger cabins of their otherwise grounded aircraft, in order to generate revenue, and to keep their aircraft and flight crews employed.

How has Covid -19 impacted the Hawaii side of business?

Prior to the pandemic, Pacific Air Cargo handled international cargo, which came in on commercial passenger flights from New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and flew much of that cargo on to the Mainland on our HNL-to-LAX Boeing 747-400 freighter services. Following the suspension of these commercial flights, the cargo loads out of Honolulu dropped by 70%, but fortunately for us, that impact was offset by the increased number of cargo flights coming to Honolulu, many of which we handle and offload on their behalf.

What operational changes has the company made this year?

As we position ourselves for further growth, we are streamlining our internal processes and procedures, and moving to upgrade and digitize different aspects of our operation. This will reduce processing times to better service our customers and also allow them to complete required documentation online ahead of checking in their shipments. We also continue to make significant investments in new and additional ground service equipment, and in upgrading vital infrastructure at our HNL warehouse and maintenance facility. Furthermore, we have just completed a major office renovation upstairs in our warehouse, which has freed up ground floor space to support our growth, and we are recruiting and training continuously in order to support our nearly 24/7 operation, and the upcoming peak holiday season.

Looking ahead what are your priorities for next year?

One of our top priorities for 2021 will be to support our partners who will be tasked with the global distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines. Logistically, this will likely represent the largest peacetime airlift the world has seen, and I see Pacific Air Cargo being very involved and committed to this effort. Should the Westbound cargo volumes continue to grow, we are prepared to increase our frequency and operate seven flights per week. We have our sights fixed firmly on growth, and potentially a new route or two.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned this year?

I guess it has been gratitude for the commitment and flexibility of our team, the loyalty and support of our partners. This is an industry where change is frequent and inevitable, and I learned from our founder, Beti Ward, that being prepared for that eventuality is one vital key to success. Keeping our business nimble and readily adaptable to change is essential to create a solid platform for growth, and vital to one’s survival in a quickly changing world.