Dave Lange: The Panda Master for FedEx

What does it take to transport precious cargo anywhere in the world? Dave Lange, FedEx Director of Aircraft Charter (A/C) Department, provides an inside view of the work his team undertakes to ensure safe and secure delivery of high-profile shipments, such as giant pandas. Whether it’s commercial, military, humanitarian, or animal shipments, the A/C is responsible for special projects—flights that aren't flown on scheduled service.

“Charters is part of the suite of services offered by FedEx. You can ship an overnight letter, or you can purchase an entire aircraft, and that's what we do. We provide full aircraft charters to military customers, commercial customers, and just about anyone interested in moving a plane load of anything from A to B, whether that's solar panels, pandas, racehorses, or military equipment. We also support the FedEx Cares “Delivering for Good” initiative, in which FedEx lends its global network and unparalleled logistics expertise to organizations with precious cargo requests to help communities before, during, and after crises,” said Dave Lange.

So how does Dave’s team prepare for larger moves, such as shipping giant pandas? They capture every shipment detail, create a schedule, find the aircraft and crew to support, work the ground handling, and solve for any other issue relating to the airport-to-airport operation. A typical charter operation may not fly from one FedEx location to another like normal scheduled service. Charters manages shipments going to locations that are offline, non-FedEx locations. It's incumbent on the department to take care of everything as it relates to that flight—catering, ground handling, fueling, etc.—whatever the requirements are to provide that charter capacity to the shipper.

“At the end of the day, for us, it's all about executing flawlessly and having a plan that our larger global team can manage,” said Lange.

Shipping giant pandas is no exception. Dave has been the panda master for FedEx leading most panda moves since 2010, when FedEx transported Tai Shan from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) back to China. While many panda moves take several months of planning, Dave’s first move happened in ten days, with his goal being that the pandas needed to land with their feet down, not up—it’s been his motto ever since.

FedEx has had the privilege of transporting 15 different pandas on 10 separate flights over the past two decades. The most recent move included sending Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji back to China from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C. on a specially decaled 777-Freighter, dubbed the “FedEx Panda Express.”  FedEx provided custom-built steel and plexiglass transportation enclosures, or in Dave’s words, “the 5-star hotel of enclosures” to ensure they traveled in comfort.

And while logistics planning to support our furry friends is exciting, it takes a village to coordinate such a sensitive move, with the last panda charter encompassing a team of more than 80 global team members collaborating weekly for three months to ensure all parts of transport were perfect.

“I get a thrill and a rush when everybody lands safely, and everything's delivered. That's where the takeoff is not as important as the landing and the execution on the backside, for me anyway. If somebody asks me what keeps me up at night, I can tell you before every panda charter, just going through the operation in my mind and making sure that everybody's doing what they're supposed to be doing. But usually, the day of, we've gone through that, and everybody understands their roles and responsibilities, and that's key to making things a success,” said Lange.

FedEx supports special cargo requests, like transporting pandas, as part of its ongoing corporate social responsibility and environmental conservation efforts. Through the company’s support of zoos like the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, FedEx plays a role in helping endangered species. For giant pandas specifically, they’re no longer considered endangered, but still vulnerable in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to the NZCBI.

Source: Smithsonian’s National Zoo