DALLAS – FedEx Express (FX) recently completed a major expansion of its air cargo hub at Miami International Airport (MIA), positioning Miami to play a greater role in the global FX network.
In an exclusive interview with Airways, Vice President of Operations for the FX Latin America and Caribbean Division Basil Khalil discussed the enhanced technology and capacity being implemented at the facility.
With millions of pounds of steel and millions of square feet of concrete involved in upgrading the air cargo hub, it is safe to say the scale of the expansion is massive and that FX is in MIA to stay.
Brent Foster (BF) Does the expansion include more ramp space than was previously available for FX at MIA? Will there be the capacity to park more aircraft?
Basil Khalil (BK) That’s correct. Prior to this we had the ability to park four widebody aircraft as well as some of the Feeders that we operate in the region. We’ve expanded that and the facility is built with the future in mind.
As you may know since it’s well documented, we’ve been acquiring many larger aircraft like the Boeing 767s and 777s, so this expansion now allows us to be able to park those types of aircraft right in front of our facility to process them quickly and improve the reliability of our operations.
BF Excellent, so you could park four widebody aircraft in there?
BK I’m sorry, that was before, now it’s gone up to six.
BF Will there be a greater frequency of FX flights into and out of MIA with this expansion and with more parking spaces?
BK Yes. Believe it or not, I was involved with the initial process to get this facility running about 25 years ago, taking the last undeveloped space on Miami Airport. Back then, we already had plans for growth, which of course, we’ve fulfilled.
There will certainly be more flight frequency as time goes. Miami is the gateway to the Americas and the rest of the world for that matter, so we suspect that as Miami continues to grow and our operations continue to grow in connectivity to Latin America and the rest of the world we will see greater direct frequencies.
BF Will FX be directly flying to any new cities out of MIA?
BK We had just recently announced an increase in frequencies or flights to Colombia, specifically Bogotá and Medellín. We’ve added flights to Puerto Rico and we will continue to research and implement other routes accordingly.
FX is a multi-note network in nature, expansion has been central to the growth of our operations over the last 40 plus years. Miami quickly becoming a very important note for us.
BF You mentioned the FedEx Feeder operations, will there be any potential new services with FedEx Feeder as well?
BK There are certainly opportunities. We’re always investigating them and I think, it’s been well documented about our investments in aircraft like the new ATR 72s, the Cessna 408s that will be coming on board. We suspect that as those types of aircraft, which are pretty amazing, start to come into the network, we will definitely see benefits in our greater network and certainly in Miami.
BF Right now, as it stands, what FX aircraft are operating with the greatest frequency at MIA?
BK We typically have 767s, MD-11s, we currently have Convairs on the Feeder side and ATRs. Several times you’ll have 757s.
When you think about it, in our Miami facility, you may have many different types of aircraft that are flying in, and we wanted to make sure that we have that capacity and capability to be able to utilize those aircraft to the best of their potential.
BF Would FedEx ever anticipate adding a pilot domicile at MIA or in Miami?
BK I can’t speak to that, that’s usually done by our aircraft operations groups and they look into such opportunities regularly. If it does make sense for the operation, I’m sure they would not hesitate to explore that.
BF Will the cold chain facility necessitate any changes to the equipment or the procedures used in loading and unloading aircraft, especially with some of the more delicate goods?
BK FX has been in the cold chain space for quite a while, this isn’t our first facility.
In fact, we’ve got facilities around the world that have been set up with cold chain but in Miami in particular, being really the gateway of perishables. It is one of the top perishable airports in the world, so there is definitely a need to move more of those types of goods.
When we talk about pharmaceuticals, when we talk about perishables like flowers, honeys, fruits, vegetables, seafood there are obviously special considerations that need to be taken with each of those particular verticals. This is something that FX has been moving pretty regularly throughout its history.
BF Will any new technology be introduced in the FX network with the cold chain facility at MIA?
BK Around the network, we have had a facility, it was about 140,000 square feet and this new addition basically doubles the size. From a footprint perspective, I think a key capability that we’ve added is the expansion of the cold chain.
Again, this is the largest cold chain facility now in the FX network at 70,000 square feet, it’s almost the size of 32 to 33 tennis courts.
From a cold room perspective, we have segregated it into certain rooms that can meet the requirements of unique verticals. You do not want to put fruits and vegetables along with your pharmaceutical products.
There can be different temperature ranges that are required and this facility allows us to meet all of those requirements of those different industries, tailor to them so that we can ensure that we have the best product integrity for our customers.
Another key feature is the space for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in that facility, that will help us ensure that we’ve got as quick a processing power having that key government entity in the facility enables quicker clearance and processing of packages.
Finally, we’ve got increased sorting capacity, putting almost 1.1 to 1.2 million pounds of steel just for our sortation to increase that speed and allow us to flow packages a lot quicker to get them to their final destination.
BF Will automation be taking a greater role than it previously has in the facility? What role does automation play in the facility?
BK There is sort automation to help us move packages a lot more quickly and increase the flow rate.
The other area of automation, which is not just related to this facility but within FX as a whole is some of the new technologies we have rolled out like SenseAware and SenseAware ID.
If you’re not familiar with SenseAware ID, it’s similar to Apple Air Tags, small and low-cost devices that can be Bluetooth enabled and added onto packages to increase the traceability of our packages significantly.
This offer to customers provides more visibility and the ability for intervention.
We can also use artificial intelligence through some of our data. We have an organization called FedEx Dataworks that helps us gather all of this great information, use artificial intelligence, and different data tools to help us intervene and take action on packages to ensure that we maintain the most perfect product integrity that our customers require.
BF Is this facility being used for transporting COVID-19 vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean?
BK Yes, and of course, we have been moving a tremendous number of global vaccines across our network already. We’ve have completed thousands of vaccine deliveries to Puerto Rico and we’ve been moving millions of vaccines across Latin America.
We work with government entities and companies to make sure there are no excursions that would risk those vaccines.
BF Approximately what percentage of the operations of the MIA facility are taken by floral transport?
BK When you think about moving pharmaceutical goods, they tend to be of higher value and smaller in size.
Perishables and particularly flowers will be a larger percentage. When you take a look at even flowers within MIA, a significant percentage of the total flower deliveries to the United States and the Americas come through Miami.
We suspect that there will be similar types of ratios when we look at our operations because we move most of the product verticals.
BF How is the quality of those flowers maintained onboard the aircraft and through the process of transport around the FX network?
BK It’s not just about the planes, it’s about the whole supply chain and making sure you’ve got the right temperature levels for those flowers.
At the front, at the origin ramps, there has to be potential for cold-storage capabilities to make sure that the flowers are at the right temperature.
You need pre-cooling stations. This facility will have 12 pre-cooling stations for those customers that may need it.
This facility is not necessarily built to store flowers for extended periods of time, it is meant to help preserve products because there are all kinds of incidents that happen, and we want to make sure that we can get those flowers in a temperature-controlled space to preserve their life as long as possible.
Again, this facility fits very well within our network.
We have done a significant amount of research about the right temperature ranges and how to maintain optimal temperatures throughout all areas of the aircraft.
We utilize that and it helps us determine where in the airplane and where we should put certain products to ensure that we preserve as little variation in the temperatures as possible.
BF Outside of the cold chain facility, the sortation technology, and the CBP facility, will FX be implementing any other technology with the expansion at MIA?
BK We have electric tugs and electric forklifts. It is better for the environment and helps reduce some of the carbon footprint.
Obviously, the introduction of aircraft that is happening across the FX network will also affect this facility.
Bringing in the 767s, which are much more fuel-efficient than some of their predecessors, and then of course some of those feeders, along with the equipment that would be needed to help accelerate the offload and onload of those aircraft.
BF Will the expansion bring more full-time FX jobs to Miami?
BK Yes, absolutely. You can imagine that by just doubling the size of the facility and allowing for that kind of growth, there will be a large number of jobs, including full-time jobs, that will be added to the community.
We’ve been a big employer across the world with over 560,000 employees and team members. In South Florida it’s no different.
Just to give some perspective, between 2019 and 2020, in the trade and logistics industry, we saw a reduction of about 7.8% of jobs because of COVID.
At FX, we grew 7.7% and with that we’ve hired more people and will continue to do so. We think there are a lot of job opportunities that can help the community flourish.
BF With the new facility in place at MIA, what does the future hold for FX operations in Miami? What can people expect to see?
BK You’ll see Miami take a much more prominent role.
Again, around that period between 2019 and 2020, our volumes grew, I think it was close to 31% year over year.
We expect to continue seeing strong growth. We believe that Miami will continue to be a main gateway for the world and we hope and expect that FX will be a large contributor to that.
BF Excellent, thank you Mr. Khalil for sharing your time and insights with Airways.
Featured image: FedEx Miami Hub Exterior. Photo: Miami International Airport