If you have ever visited a zoo or aquarium, it may have crossed your mind once or twice how much of a complex, challenging and sensitive task it must be to transport wild animals across the world to their present-day homes. One person who is all too aware of the nature of such work is Shai Gill, Vice President, Flight Operations, of CAL Cargo Airlines (CAL). “Live animals always provide entertainment,” he says matter-of-factly. “Just last week we transported two sharks to the Israeli Aquarium, and we have a great deal of experience in the handling of other exotic animals, including lions, giraffes and chimpanzees, to name a few.”
Wild animals only make up one area of a business that has been around since the CAL Group was founded in 1976, initially by a collective of Israeli farmers looking for a cost-effective solution for exporting perishable goods out of the country and into Europe. Today, the CAL Group maintains three areas of expertise; CAL Cargo Airlines, Liege Air Cargo Handling Services (LACHS), and road feeder services throughout Europe and the United States.
The CAL you see today is a much different beast than that which existed 38 years ago. Offering unmatched global air freight support, its scheduled services include daily flights to and from Europe and the United States, daily flights between Europe and Tel Aviv, a rapidly expanding Europe to Mexico. The rest of the world is also within CAL’s reach through CAL’s charter flights as well as interline agreements with global partners.
“Coming out of the financial crisis of 2008-9, CAL embarked on a strategy to clearly define what it needed to do in order to grow as a business. The answers were that we needed to expand internationally and do so while focusing on the characteristics that made us better than the competition,” Shai continues. “This approach is what gave rise to our slogan ‘Non-standard is our standard’ and what saw us build up a series of specific challenging areas of cargo handling expertise, vertical products, including oversized cargo, high value goods like artwork, automobiles, time and temperature sensitive pharmaceutical products, perishables, aircraft engines and dangerous goods.
“Out of this work also came our choice of fleet, which consists of 747-400 freighters that support our operational speciality in non-standard cargo. We have found these planes to be particularly economic and efficient, and the fact that they can be affordably operated gives us the flexibility that a 747-8 or 777, for instance, lacks as these models need to be in the air for the vast majority of the day in order to be economical.”
The unique nature of CAL’s work and its track record for delivering on its promises has resulted in it carrying out cargo handling tasks for a diverse mix of loyal customers, ranging from leading international pharmaceutical manufacturers, museums such as the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan in New York, airlines and engine manufacturers, to defence industry contractors and blue-chip companies such as Tesla. “Our motto as a business is ‘Challenge Accepted’ and our work with our customers highlights our ability to take on work where others lack the capability or willingness to do so. We went from being the ‘best kept secret’ in the cargo market to a well-known and appreciated carrier,” Shai adds.
Across CAL’s entire chain, it also offers ground handling services with special equipment and the necessary infrastructure to handle unique cargo needs. In Europe, it is supported by LACHS, the group’s wholly owned ground handling agent based at Liege Airport, Belgium. “Our relationship with Liege Airport dates back over 20 years, when we became the first cargo airline to establish operations there,” Shai explains. “Laying at the heart of the so-called ‘golden triangle’ the European logistics centre of gravity that connects Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, Liege Airport has always focused on being a European cargo hub, therefore making it the epicentre of our operations was a key decision taken by CAL.”
At Liege, through LACHS, CAL owns and maintains a state-of-the-art facility with advanced and highly automated amenities, including a temperature controlled warehouse, high security clearance, a 52-tonne highloader, and IT infrastructure that allows for the expedited processing of documentation and customs clearance. All of this is supported by dedicated and skilled ground handling personnel, as well as the group’s access to a fleet of hi-tech trucks and trailers that possess optimal transport conditions for high value, temperature controlled goods.
Another facet of the business that Shai and the rest of the CAL team are particularly proud of is its environmental credentials and its attitude towards operating sustainably and responsibly. “This approach starts with small things such as the removal of paper navigation maps and charts from our aircraft, making CAL cockpits paperless, and the fact that all of our company cars are either hybrid or electric vehicles,” he reveals. “It then extends upwards to the fuel consumption and carbon emissions output of the aircraft themselves, which we have worked extremely hard to reduce wherever possible by doing things such as optimising arrival and departure routes.”
As CAL plots its course into 2019 and beyond, the next phase of its development is already well underway with a sister company, ACE Freighters Belgium, expected to commence operations out of Liege Airport during Q1 of 2019. The EU-registered company will open up new routes for CAL, allowing it to serve destinations that were previously out of reach for CAL. This will be another milestone for the development of the entire group, now rebranded the ‘Challenge’ group.
“By replicating the success we have had with CAL at ACE, the Challenge Group will be able to offer a complete end-to-end solution to our customers across the globe, supporting the transportation of unique cargo to destinations such as India or China, or countries in Africa and South America,” Shai enthuses. “In the last several years the future of the CAL Group has been gradually taking shape and with all of the pieces of the puzzle now starting to fall into place we are very excited about what the years ahead holds for us!”
CAL Cargo Airlines
Specialists in handling non-standard cargo
Fleet of four 747-400 Freighters
A global company with localised services
Photopgraphy by Kobi Ben Navi