FedEx's Panda Express
Written by David Cunningham
1. The history of panda transportation. How long has China been loaning the animals to parts of the world, and traditionally speaking, how did they get to those places?
Although I cannot speak on behalf of China on its loaning of pandas, what I can tell you is that FedEx has been involved in the successful transportation of ten pandas since 2000 to a variety of destinations including:
• Huan Huan and Yuan Zi from China to Paris in January 2012
• Tian Tian and Yang Guang from China to Edinburgh in December 2011
• Tai Shan and Mei Lan, from the U.S. to China in February 2010
• Le Le and Ya Ya, from China to the U.S. in 2003
• Mei Xiang and Tian Tian (Tai Shan’s parents) from China to the U.S. in 2000.
At FedEx, we have taken extreme care in the transportation of the pandas by arranging for specially-chartered flight known as the “FedEx Panda Express”.
2. Take me through the timeline for the panda's FedEx journey from China to their destinations. Are the panda's prepped for flight at all? What specific needs do the pandas have throughout the journey? Are they in cages or able to move about freely?
Let me take you on the journey of Tian Tian and Yang Guang from China to Scotland. Before our VIPs, Very Important Pandas, board the “FedEx Panda Express”, a specially-decaled Boeing 777F, FedEx worked closely with The Edinburgh Zoo, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and Chengdu’s Bifengxia Panda Base to ensure all necessary steps were taken to provide a safe and comfortable flight for the pandas.
A special FedEx Express crewmember, known as a Loadmaster, traveled with the pandas to ensure the best conditions were always maintained in the aircraft. Animal care experts from Chengdu’s Bifengzia Panda Base and Edinburgh Zoo were granted special flight privileges to accompany the pandas onboard the plane for the duration of their trip. Only the most experienced FedEx Express team members worked on these special deliveries, both on the ground and in the air.
On board the “FedEx Panda Express”, the pandas travelled in utmost comfort in two spacious custom-built containers that were specially built to allow them complete freedom to move around and observe their surroundings through transparent Plexiglass. Their in-flight menu was also carefully prepared and included a selection of bamboo, apples, carrots, a special panda cake and mineral water. Panda food and toys were the only shipment on the aircraft.
Upon arrival at their destination, FedEx Express vehicles then transported the pandas in a police cavalcade from the airport facilities direct to the zoos so that they can recover from their travel as quickly as possible.
3. Why was FedEx chosen to handle this operation? A history behind the company's Panda operations would be helpful here as well.
FedEx Express is uniquely qualified to fly special cargo because of our unparalleled network, our dedicated employees, and our proven expertise in handling delicate cargo.
As mentioned earlier, we have a long history of providing safe travel for some of the world’s most delicate cargo.
In addition to transporting giant pandas to varied locations around the world, FedEx has also transported exotic cargo such as polar bears, white tigers, elephants, penguins, mountain lions, gorillas, eagles and even a 13-foot tiger shark which was used in filming the movie “Jaws.”
Besides FedEx FedEx’s extensive experience in handling delicate cargo, the FedEx Boeing 777F allowed Tian Tian and Yang Guang to travel in comfort and arrive in Edinburgh in the fastest time possible. The Boeing 777F is the world’s largest twin-engine cargo aircraft and gives FedEx customers an environmentally-responsible, competitive advantage by flying farther on less fuel while carrying more cargo than the MD-11s they replace.
4. Any interesting relevant panda stories that I can share with my readers?
As the world’s largest express transportation company, FedEx has handled a range of special deliveries but shipping giant pandas is a special commitment due to the symbolism behind their move across the world. Their transportation requires an incredible amount of time and research beyond the actual flight, from the preparation of our “FedEx Panda Express” to their onboard care, and even to the individual personalities of each animal to determine how they will respond to the flight.
One of the team members who contributed significantly to the safety of the pandas on the flight was Vince Buscarino. As FedEx Express Senior Charter Loadmaster, he accompanied the pandas to Scotland and France, and coordinated all the air and group support service associated with the charter flight. He had to consider the personality and behavior of the pandas in order to accurately prepare a comfortable on-board environment for them, and position their enclosures accordingly. When two previous giant pandas were flown from the US to China in 2012, their enclosures were specially arranged in order to keep them in visual contact with each other in order to improve their onboard experience.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector