Exclusive: Ground handling agent Swissport has started to levy an ‘Emergency COVID-19 Support Surcharge’ for air freight imports at all stations worldwide. This is confirmed in a letter to forwarding agents in Frankfurt and displayed on the company’s global website. Only imports are affected, with transits, exports, and hygiene articles as well as medical shipments remaining excluded from the Swiss company’s step.
Is a new wave of fees rolling towards freight forwarders and airlines? This may well be the case should the Swissport example set the tone and encourage other ground handlers to follow suit.
There are plenty of reasons for this to happen, since the entire ground handling business is under enormous pressure caused by the disruption of aviation in the wake of the corona pandemic.
Changed framework conditions
Since February, freight volumes are hugely volatile, fluctuating constantly between idle and extremely high workloads, which makes the planning of labor resources for GHAs extremely difficult. At the same time, staff retention costs are substantial and the pre-crisis handling prices agreed between handlers and their customers no longer reflect the actual performance of the agents.
These challenges are mentioned by Swissport in its note to its customers, asking for understanding of its decision to demand surcharges. “Our primary objective is to maintain the supply chain,” the company assures in its communication. “Due to the loss of almost all passenger flights and their cargo capacities, we can no longer rely on stable and recurrent flight schedules on the basis of which we plan capacities. Today we have primarily irregular peaks (charter).”
Import cargo handled as loose or prebuilt (BUP) is most affected by the ‘COVID-19 Emergency Support’ surcharge, which is valid with immediate effect.
And these are the specs:
- AWB weight between 1 kg and 500 kg - € 19.00 (euros)
- Between 501 kg and 1,000 kg - € 22.00 (euros)
- Between 1,001 kg and 5,000 kg - € 25.00 (euros)
- More than 5,001 kg - € 30.00 (euros)
Costs are spiraling out of control
In the announcement, the ground handler points out that the charge will cover only a fraction of daily operational costs. “Ensuring sufficient qualified personnel to cope with the fluctuating cargo volumes in order to maintain the high quality and safety standards the company is known for has become a huge challenge,” its note reads. Additional expenditures were necessary to supply the staff with enough PPE masks and disinfectants.
The letter ends with Swissport’s assurance that the COVID-19 surcharges will be terminated once flight operations are back to normal.
This, however, is likely to take quite some time.
Forwarders show a cold shoulder
Targeted by Swissport’s advance, the local German forwarding and logistics association of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate repelled the intent, arguing that its members are not affected since it is airlines that are clients of ground handlers, not forwarders.
“Unless otherwise agreed, air freight forwarders do not have a direct contractual relationship with Cargo Handling Agents. Therefore, claims for remuneration and other additional surcharges or fees cannot be derived from this.”
Unlike Swissport, other cargo ground handlers, operating at German airports and suffering likewise under COVID-19 pressure, refrain from collecting extra money from their customers. This applies to Rhine-Main’s handler Fraport Cargo and LUG aircargo handling, Cargogate of Airport Munich, Cologne-based Wisskirchen Handling Services (WHS) and Leipzig-Halle subsidiary Port Ground GmbH.
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