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Airlink has grown to be one of the biggest players in the Middle East logistics industry over the last 30 years. However, it now has ambitious plans to become even bigger.

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By  Robeel Haq Published  January 1, 2006

Linked Up|~|airlink2.jpg|~|Chrys Mendonca (Airlink)|~|Airlink has been a prominent name in the Middle East logistics industry for the past 30 years. It started life modestly, with four members of staff working around the clock to develop and expand the business into one of the region’s biggest players. The hard work has proved worthwhile. Airlink now has various facilities spread across the region, including in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Lebanon, as well as one of the largest distribution centres in Jebel Ali. However, it is now gearing for the future by drawing up plans for new IT systems and another huge warehouse in Dubai Logistics City. Airlink offers the full gamut of freight and logistics services, covering freight forwarding, warehousing, transportation, exhibitions, removals and travel management. The company has also offered 3PL services since 1992, which now accounts for roughly 30% of its business. To support its core activities, Airlink provides customers with a variety of value-added services, such as shrink-wrapping, kitting and labelling. This allows the company to offer a one-stop solution. “We started by offering third party logistics services for a home shopping network,” explains Chrys Mendonca, vice president, cargo, Airlink. “The customer base grew quickly. In fact, the facility was soon bursting at the seams because of huge demand. We felt further expansion was necessary, so we started looking into a new facility.” Airlink had initially rented warehousing in Jebel Ali, but it acquired its own facility in October 1998. However, the rapid demand continued at full pace and further expansion was soon required. The company eventually opted to purchase a 100,000 m2 plot of land in Jebel Ali, where it constructed a 40,000 m2 warehouse, which it moved into in January 2003. The warehouse boasts a range of different storage areas, including a 5000 m2 air-conditioned facility. This dust-free area currently holds various electrical products for Schneider Electrics. The facility also features 35,000 m2 of open yard space, which is fully paved and fully interlocked. “The open yard space is quite a unique feature,” says Mendonca. “It gives the company a big advantage in terms of project freight that needs to be stored outside. There are not many similar facilities in the region.” Inside the warehouse, there is also 12,000 m2 of unracked space. This area, which is larger than the total size of many nearby warehouses in Jebel Ali, accommodates bulk freight and offers customers the flexibility of having different racking or storage systems. The London Metal Exchange has also certified the unracked section, which allows Airlink to store copper and other metals there. “Offering standard racking throughout the warehouse would not suit the requirements of all customers,” says Mendonca. “Therefore, we kept this area open. If any customer needs a different type of racking, it is easily achievable without any modifications to the building or existing racking.” In the rest of the warehouse, Airlink uses a variety of different racking to cater to the different requirements of its customers. Generally, selective racking is used, which maximises the space usage, retaining optimum product accessibility. The warehouse also includes cantilever racks, which are particularly suited to storing long and flat items; dismantable intainer pallets, which can be used for the storage and transportation of different loads; and dynamic shelving, which offers better stock rotation and saves on surface area. “Our thought process when designing this warehouse was catering to the needs of clients with short requests,” continues Mendonca. “Therefore, the design of the warehouse, including the racking, should allow us to meet the deadlines of customers who need their products within a short amount of time.” In terms of material handling equipment, Airlink uses a combination of reach trucks and counter balance forklifts. “The layout of the warehouse is not catered for very narrow aisle (VNA) trucks. We find the VNAs slow everything down a bit, whereas the reach trucks and counter balance forklifts provide very fast access, especially because the warehouse is very long,” adds Mendonca. Airlink is also embracing new technology to improve the quality of service offered to customers. Soon after moving into the logistics centre, the company moved away from its paper-based system and implemented radio frequency technology in the warehouse. “The radio frequency technology brought immediate benefits,” says Mendonca. “Although the warehouse is not quite paperless, the quantity of paper has really dropped. Also, the possibility of making mistakes has reduced considerably. It’s made a huge difference.” The company uses an SSA Global warehouse management system, which is fully RF-enabled and which offers realtime information on inventory processes within the warehouse. There are also exciting future plans in terms of technology. Airlink will soon implement web access to provide customers with the added convenience of accessing their inventory from remote locations. In addition, it is considering possible RFID technology. “There is a lot of talk in the market about RFID,” comments Mendonca. “At the moment, we have not really had the requirement for RFID. However, it is something we are definitely looking into.” Today, Airlink employs over 500 staff of different nationalities throughout its various facilities. It hires the labour directly, so the experience gained by warehouse staff stays within the organisation. Staff numbers are also set to increase in the future, when Airlink constructs its latest facility in Dubai Logistics City. “We plan to expand within the new Logistics City in Jebel Ali,” explains Mendonca. “We are planning to acquire 35,000 m2 of land and build a 15,000 m2 warehouse facility once the necessary infrastructure is in place.” When the Dubai Logistics City facility is constructed, it will focus more on airfreight, whereas most of the company’s 3PL activities will still be based in the existing Jebel Ali centre. “There is plenty of competition these days and the situation will increase even more once buildings are constructed in Logistics City,” concludes Mendonca. “However, Dubai is witnessing a boom and I cannot imagine it curving downwards. Airlink has always kept pace with developments in this country and we plan to expand our presence further in the Gulf region. The new facility in Logistics City is a step in the right direction.” ||**||

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