Pacific Air Cargo: continuing the Beti Ward leadership style

When Pacific Air Cargo (PAC) founder Beti Ward passed away earlier this year, her legacy was a management team determined to continue her leadership style at the Honolulu-based freighter airline.
Tanja Janfruechte, mentored by Beti for more than 20 years, is chief executive at the carrier which operates one Boeing 747-400F – now bearing the name ‘Beti Ward 1’ – between Hawaii and Los Angeles.
Janfruechte is based in Los Angeles and shares responsibility with Honolulu-located chief operating officer Thomas Ingram.
Says Janfruechte: “Beti had a natural passion for the industry and had this charm about her, which a lot of entrepreneurs possess. The airline was her baby and she cared about the people.
“Taking care of her staff was uppermost in her thinking. I witnessed that every day. She mentored everybody. She was very hands-on and did whatever it took to get the job done.”
Janfruechte continues: “I’m so proud of how everyone has come together. We shared a huge loss with Beti’s passing and, rather than stressing out, or going in all different directions, we came together as one.
“We were delegating, accepting new responsibilities, taking things off each other’s plate without being asked. This demonstrates how Beti ‘raised’ us.”
Air Cargo News’ editorial team witnessed first-hand Beti’s willingness to help others, offering support and advice for the publication’s freighter conference, held in Chicago last year, and participating in a lively panel discussion.
Janfruechte, US-born but with German parents who worked for Lufthansa passenger arm, joined the air cargo industry “by accident” as Beti’s assistant at her former business, American International Cargo (AIC), although her new boss was away on business for three weeks before they met in person.
Janfruechte admits that the tiny freight warehouse did not make a great first impression, and so she applied for other jobs: “I am glad nobody else hired me because it was fortunate that I got to stay working for her.”
AIC had a three-ring policy at the office: “If the phone rang and no one had answered it by the third ring, then Beti would pick it up. She led by example.”
Pacific Air Cargo was launched at the dawn of the millennium in 2000 with a freighter leased from Kalitta Air, set to become a long-term leasing partner, and a number of staff went with Beti from AIC. Janfruechte joined PAC, working at night in the operations department but then switching to days: “I worked side by side with Beti on everything from accounting to sales and charters.
“We try to be creative on a charter, to keep the costs down for the customer by selling the backhaul.”
Beti intended to step back from a full-time role at PAC in 2018 and wanted to travel more. Says Janfruechte: “We had a classic textbook lesson of business and succession planning, but it was meant for when Beti retired.”
Beti died in March this year after a short illness.
Says Janfruechte: “I’ve never witnessed first-hand the love that so many had for one person. The support was mind blowing. Beti was a loved woman who touched so many and who looked up to Beti as a mentor.”
Are there plans for a Beti Ward 2 freighter? Janfruechte says that a second aircraft would be “fantastic” and remains a goal for the future.
“The types of cargo we ship range from perishables to apparel for the military, B777F aircraft engines, horses and cattle. The big, bad and ugly is what we still specialize in, but we also move the tiny as well.”
E-commerce is growing but the main PAC business remains the main deck cargo: “We have a helicopter in the warehouse right now, plus we ship movie business trucks, which all helps balance out the different types of cargo. We also pick up cattle twice a month, and horses to and from Hawaii.”
PAC’s two operational centres, in Los Angeles and Honolulu, are in time zones three hours apart.
“Our schedule drives this, with the early departure out of LAX and an afternoon departure out of HNL,” says Janfruechte, adding: “The management and supervisors have worked here on average for 15 years, so the operation works like a well-oiled machine.
“The nice part of the day to day is how flexible we can be. The staff can make decisions on discounting or extending cut-offs without having it be a work of congress. This is how PAC has always operated and I don’t see this changing. The leadership that is in place is just an extension of Beti’s management style.”
Janfruechte says that the management plan for PAC is “growth”, adding: “We recently extended our partnership with Kalitta Air and are looking at possible route expansion and/or frequency of same route expansion.
“We also continue to expand our ground handling services and outer island services via our inter island partner Trans Air. PAC has a lot of good partnerships in place. The immediate focus is to grow and strengthen the business through our existing partnerships.”
While a number of parked B747-400Fs have risen from the desert due to strong market demand, none are plying their trade via Hawaii.
“The growth in Hawaii is expanding and our backhaul is primarily our partnerships with the Asian carriers. They haul the freight into Hawaii and we, along with others, fly it to Los Angeles. Over the last couple of years that business has been extremely strong, the strongest we have seen it since PAC began.”
Single aisle aircraft are easing out wide-body passenger jets on the LA-Honolulu route, which has upped the demand for cargo space: “We used to have lulls, but we don’t anymore, which is nice.”
A large amount of perishables are flown into Hawaii: “You would think Hawaii grew all its own fruit and vegetables, but we also handle lot of flowers, particularly around Mothers Day when the warehouse smells like a beautiful flower shop.
“Interestingly enough, we are also shipping many dogs. A lot of commercial carriers will not take dogs for a certain part of the year because of the heat, so we get to carry them on the temperature-controlled main deck and the business is booming.”
PAC transports special canines used in the Hawaii Five-O and Magnum PI TV series: “I guess we move the movie star dogs. All part of our VIP Pets service.”
Of the immediate growth plan, Janfruechte states: “We will continue to work only with the freight forwarders. If you ask me what our plans are for the future, then we are looking to grow our frequencies between LA and Honolulu and possibly put up a sixth flight year-round.
“We will do that in peak season but are trying to see if we can do it year round. Hopefully we can start it next year.”
Whatever the future growth plans, the business approach of Beti Ward will remain.
“I don’t think a day goes by without us doing something at work and thinking ‘hey, what would Beti do?’ I don’t think that is ever going to go away.
“She built this culture and it is instilled in our way of doing business and that is what is driving us, and that is what Pacific Air Cargo will always be.
“We are going to continue under her vision and culture, and we are not going to have a machine pick up the phone.”

Beti Ward, found of PAC, who passed away earlier this year

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