A Day at Lufthansa Cargo México.

The flight that every aviation enthusiast should take. 

Photo: TJDarmstadt. Licensed under: CC BY 2.0.

I remember my first flight when I was 8 years old in an MD80 travelling from Mexico City to Cancun. I can never forget the sound of the turbines when taking off, or the excitement and fascination seeing those giant steel birds caused me. It’s incredible that over time I’m still hypnotized by any plane that passes over me.

As a good avgeek, I recognize the model from a distance, or I take out the FlightRadar app just to have more information. In general, everything that flying involves: the challenges, the people, the experience – made me realize that this is the industry I want to belong to.

As a big fan of air travel, and with my personal goals clear during my undergraduate degree, I did all my research on aviation. I attended extracurricular events and courses organized by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and joined various aviation societies. All in order to live my dreams after academic life. 

17 years later, that boy met one of his goals, I graduated, and am now pursuing a master’s degree. However, as many of us know the airline industry is going through one of the hardest, if not the worst, crisis ever. Several airlines had no choice but to request voluntary leave or to fire exceptional people. This meant for aviation enthusiasts like me, that our career aspirations have to be put on hold. And therefore, this could work up demotivation.

However, on May 6, I visited the facilities of Lufthansa Cargo Servicios Logísticos de México. The emotion, the thoughts that crossed my mind when being inside the facilities of a company as important as Lufthansa Cargo is indescribable. An experience that could be described as when a child enters a theme park for the first time. It was a great day that I would like to share with you and as a thank you note to the great Lufthansa Cargo team, to whom I dedicate this article. So, without further ado – as they would say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we begin boarding flight LH-1” bound for one of the best experiences of my life.

It all started months ago with a message that I sent to Mr. Frank Nozinsky, Commercial Sales Director of Lufthansa Cargo Mexico who, with a great attitude, surprisingly opened the door to me. Since then, I had been looking forward to that day.

“Welcome aboard”

My first stop was Terminal 1 of Mexico City’s International Airport. I still remember the happiness but at the same time the nerves I had because it was at that moment that I realized what was about to happen. The hours passed and the moment arrived. There I was at Gate 1 where I met Elizabeth Morales and Javier Avalos, both part of the operations team. They gave me a warm welcome and we talked about how surprising and interesting my visit was.

While we were waiting for the access permit, I had that feeling of belonging because the most surprising thing is that, even without knowing each other, the language of aviation breaks barriers. It was as if we had known each other for a long time. In the end the passion we have for the industry was what allowed us to coincide.

“Cabin crew starting movement”

Later, the team met me at the Lufthansa check-in area and then took me to the customs area where I would meet Frank for the first time. I must accept that I was nervous, and how could I not be if I as a student was about to meet the Director of one of the most important aviation companies. However, all that feeling was gone thanks to Frank being totally friendly and very approachable.

The Lufthansa Check-In Desk at Mexico City Airport

Upon arriving at the customs area, they provided me with an access vest. What would be my “seat belt” for the rest of the visit. I must admit that I think that was the best vest I have ever used. I will miss it very much in the UK.

“We have crossed 10,000 feet.”

When I finally entered customs, I felt like one of the Narnia characters coming out of the closet, a sense of uncertainty into the unknown but with great excitement. The most important thing is that I felt part of that community. I can only describe that feeling as when a child is waiting in line for a roller coaster.

While Liz and Frank explained the division of the facilities to me, one of the first situations I faced was walking through the corridors and the intersections between the streets – it was almost like being a tourist and walking through the streets of Piccadilly Circus in London or Reforma in Mexico City where you could easily collide with anyone.

Lufthansa Cargo Servicios Logisticos de México HQ

This time, the remarkable difference was that instead of people you could collide with packages, animals, or special merchandise. A funny thing was to see the street crossing – suddenly Frank and Liz crossed and at that moment all the vehicles stopped.

It was as if the iconic Berlins’ Ampelmann was there with a permanent green light, and at the end I crossed the customs street following the Beatles-style at Abbey Road.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will begin our service shortly.”

At this moment, the Lufthansa Cargo Mexico facilities were in front of me. It was like seeing the Disneyland castle, where you had the main Disney characters dressed in yellow vests, or what to say of the floats but in the form of cargo trucks. Once my emotion was processed and I calmed down, the first thing that Liz and Frank did was take me to the administrative offices, from the cashier office, the document handling area in the Exports area, etc … There they explained all the requirements and authorizations that are needed to be able to process cargo shipments.

From there we continued to see the operations centre, which is the heart of Lufthansa Cargo – and where an iconic scale model of the Lufthansa B777-F was welcoming us. It was there that I met Aaron Lopez and the rest of the team who were working to receive the cargo of the flight from Frankfurt in the majestic B777-F.

Painting given by Dorothea von Boxberg Lufthansa Cargo General Director

One of the things that caught my attention was the painting sent to Mexico by the Dorothea von Boxberg Lufthansa Cargo General Director.  Frank explained to me that this was in recognition of the Mexico team for having carried out the operation with the “Highest Belly Load factor” of the entire Lufthansa Cargo network. It sounds easy, but it is a daunting task (you will soon understand why).

On the other hand, I asked Liz about one of her most significant projects, to which she responded to obtain the “CEIV PHARMA CERTIFICATION” from IATA, which ensures that “The transportation of temperature controlled and time-sensitive products, including vaccines, meet pharmaceutical manufacturers’ requirements.” It also ensures “Building a network of certified pharmaceutical trade lanes that meet consistent standards and assure product integrity” Something that has become more important these days. Congratulations Liz and Lufthansa Cargo!

Afterwards Frank explained to me the wide range of clients that the group has and something curious. Lufthansa Cargo is a company outside of Lufthansa. This works as a sort of circular economy, whereby the Lufthansa Cargo customer is Lufthansa itself. It sounds odd, but it is an advantage – because they make sure to handle the merchandise with the best quality and service standards. Likewise, they explained to me their alliance systems for certain markets and routes as they have with United, Cathay Pacific and ANA. They have all been a success story.

Elizabeth Morales, Javier Avalos and Aaron Lopez

Then Frank gave me one of the best classes, where I learned about the hub-spoke model which reminded me of my Master’s Soft Computing classes, only now I was seeing the real complexity of developing a network. On the other hand, Frank gave me an introduction to open skies politics and the issues involved in developing and planning a network, fleet and schedule – especially in the cargo industry since, unlike the civil industry, the same assumptions cannot be made, which highlights that human factor is crucial for its success.

“Ladies and gentlemen please fasten your seat belts, we will be soon crossing turbulence.” 

Already late at night where a turbulence of emotions began. Following the security protocols, they took me to the hangar where all the loads are received, and they are prepared for departure. The first thing I remembered were the words of my lecturer Jolian McHardy “We will see the story behind the model” And now finally I truly saw the behind the scenes and its complexity. Everything is very systematic and orderly but at the same time it seemed like a puzzle. They showed me the largest X-ray machine in Latin America, the refrigerators that are controlled from Frankfurt. Likewise, they explained to me the division of everything that has to be sent.

On the other hand, I understood the entire process from the delivery of merchandise to its loading onto the plane. They showed me both the planks and the piles and explained their importance. In the end, everything is measured with phenomenal accuracy which reminded me of my Master’ Simulation classes to optimize processes. From there, Frank told me about the challenges facing the industry and especially the plant in Mexico. I’m sure the team is more than ready to go ahead.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent”

Now, the cherry on the cake. It was 11 PM and the majestic B777-F was about to arrive from Frankfurt. But for this task, I would now be accompanied by Frank, Áaron and Javier. We were ready in the truck next to runway 5L waiting for the arrival of Good Morning Seoul. (Something curious, the Lufthansa Cargo fleet has the names of the cities where the company have an operations centre i.e. Seoul).

As a medical operation, the entire team was ready to receive the patient, both with the equipment for disembarkation and the cargo ready to go to the plane. Let us remember that in this industry, turn-around time and punctuality is crucial. Like a concert, we first saw the Air Canada B787 land as an opening to the concert I was about to witness. Suddenly the LH Cargo plane was landing and as a good avgeek I started taking several photos and getting even more excited.

Time to get out of the truck and start the action. Javier invited me to go to the head and climb the stairs to have a better view of the arrival. And without further ado, there I saw how the 777 was turning so majestically towards me. As if we were connected and communicating. It was a moment that made me admire how amazing this industry is and how far humanity has come.

As Alex Tienda put it:

“I faced one of the most beautiful sensations that any human being could experience, to become oneself with a machine created by man, to achieve one of the greatest dreams of humanity, to fly.”

And so, already being 11:30 pm, the crew turned off the engines and the team began to prepare. It was a moment as if Tarantino clapped his hands and said “1, 2, 3, action!”. At that moment everyone was so synchronized and went to perform their roles. I remember that Frank came up to me and said “it’s incredible, isn’t it?” but in my mind I was thinking that this whole day had been incredible. I stepped up to see the highly advanced wing design and look at the GE90-110 engines. Of course I had to take the iconic engine photo…

It was as if Frank and Javier were reading my mind, they approached to invite me to enter the plane. Sure, I’ve boarded flights many times, but this one was totally different. I entered the cabin and unlike a commercial flight now had access to the heart of the plane, and could observe the complexity but above all the delicacy and professionalism with which the team handles the cargo.

Aaron (operations officer) came over and explained the logistics and the order in which the packages are unloaded and loaded. As well as all the observations that have to be made in case something needs some change. The work of the whole team is to be admired. There I understood how important the piles, planks and insurance are. As if it were a Tetris game, they arrange and rotate the load efficiently and truthfully. Of course, with the big difference that everything has already been measured with accuracy and planning.

The professionalism with which Lufthansa Cargo works is truly worthy of credit. Above all, the great technology that they handle in this station which returns to the service, not only efficient but avant-garde and of great quality. Great job Aaron and Javier!

“Thank you for flying with us”

And yes, as if we had just landed, it was time to thank and say goodbye to the entire team. In truth, this experience has been so meaningful to me. So this last section of this article is dedicated to the Lufthansa Cargo Servicios Logisticos de Mexico team, Lufthansa Cargo and all aviation enthusiasts.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge the great work of Lufthansa Cargo. I am surprised by their way of mobilizing goods of various kinds to the rest of the world with the opportunity and care that is required; which generates confidence and satisfaction in the quality of the services they provide to their clients. I could say that this whole process, beyond being a difficult task, or of a systematic nature, is an art. Likewise, it is important to emphasize the great role that the team have played in these difficult pandemic times, performing essential tasks to ensure that everyone receives the necessary goods or even the vital supply of vaccines globally.

On the other hand, many times we have seen that the corporate social responsibility strategy focuses on various pillars, such as sustainability, support for communities,  employees personal development, among many other things. Of course Lufthansa Cargo is an example of a socially responsible company which makes it valuable. Nevertheless, on a personal basis, the true value of Lufthansa Cargo, and what I am thankful for, is that it showed me that there is always a silver lining and that without knowing it, one can find many blessings in disguise. So thank you, Frank, Liz, Aaron, Javier, and the Lufthansa Cargo team for giving me back that motivation. I see your work and it inspires me with everything I think I can become and achieve. Thank you for the advice, explanations and attention you gave me. As Aaron said, for sharing the little secrets of aviation. This group of people are the true definition of what good teamwork is. In the end I hope one day to become like you. Congratulations everyone!

So to the entire aviation community, I know these are difficult times, and the challenges continue from day to day. But remember, the incredible thing about this industry is that the challenges are at the heart of every day’s lessons. Remember that we are a community that sees challenges as opportunities. I have a goal, to become a driver of change within the aviation industry just as Lufthansa does. Therefore, remember… If you have a passion, no matter what it is, you should fight for it!

Finally, I close this article  with the words of  Mr. Frank Nozinsky, ones which I hope all young  aviation  enthusiasts will always keep in mind – “The Future is yours.”

Eduardo Vargas, Frank Nozinsky.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to follow Eduardo on social media – and don’t hesitate to get in touch with him or the team!

I am a Mexican MSc Business Analytics student at the University of Edinburgh. Aviation is a unique and a professional industry which connects the world together through a distinctive experience. This is why I share a strong passion for this industry.

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