“United we stand, divided we fall.” What applies to soccer and other team sports is also true in the case of Air Cargo Netherlands. Bringing together the often diverging interests of the private air cargo community is not an easy task, but that is precisely what ACN is all about. Mostly with remarkable success.
“We sometimes have our differences of opinion,” says CAN’s Managing Director Ben Radstaak, “but they all realize that this is a good way to stand up against the competition of the integrators,
the shipping lines, new initiatives such as rail freight to China and, in fact, the rest of Europe.”
As for the integrators, Schiphol Airport has none. “When Fokker closed down its plant, there were some fears that FedEx would move in”, says Ben. “They would have used up most of the night capacity.”
ACN brings together the forwarders, the airlines (cargo managers), the ground handlers and the trucking companies. The airport authority also is involved, as are a lot of other service providers, states Ben. “You can say that Schiphol’s interests and ours are equal to 90%, even if some of our supporters would appreciate more openness towards foreign carriers. The more cargo, the better.”
The extra capacity entering the market thanks to the cargo friendliness of the new generation of passenger wide-body aircraft, has not gone unnoticed in this respect, but it is not so easy to battle with the Middle East carriers, says Radstaak.
Taking the e-Lead
The private Schiphol cargo community tries to organize the ground processes as efficiently as possible, by taking the lead in digitalization. “IATA knows that they can always rely on us whenever there is another project to be tested”, says Ben. “Most of the customs procedures have long been digitalized and the e-AWB is pending. The Pouch, too, has been digitalized for the greater part. Through our eLink system, designed by the ACN community and the airport and supported y the Cargonaut community system, the security check processes are being rolled-out. These procedures are already incorporated in ‘ready for carriage’.
This automated system can contribute to a better tuning of all the different processes in the ground leg of the air cargo business, but even then not all the parties are always on the same wavelength. States Ben Radstaak: “the ground handlers tend to side with the airlines, whereas the forwarders prefer to collaborate with the truckers. This is where the greater part of loss of time and irritation is created.”
And there is also, of course, the customs authority, which finds itself round the table with ACN more often than not. “They have to perform their duties as efficiently as possible, yet they do their utmost to play along with our processes as far as possible.”
Within the forwarding community, diversity abounds, so the only thing ACN can hope to achieve is that the processes are carried out in the most uniform way possible. “Both the standards you design and their interpretations have to be uniform.”
The challenges the air cargo business has to face, are manifold, Ben concludes. “We are closely monitoring the development of rail freight opportunities between Europe and the Far East. Sea freight will always be a lot cheaper. In the old days the high interest rates were often an incentive to opt for air cargo, but now they are quite low. Near sourcing is another issue. Everybody remembers the impact of the tsunami in the Far East on the global supply chain.”
ACN likes to limit its activities to the Schiphol community and leaves every form of external promotion to the airport authority or its individual members. No specific steps are taken to try and convince the shippers, Ben concludes. “In the air cargo industry you will never be able to take advantage of the buying power that is common to the sea freight industry. In air cargo, the forwarder still holds a very strong position.”