Active for more than 40 years in the forwarding business, Washington-based veteran, Brandon Fried “is the industry’s public face,” Achim Martinka, Vice President of the German Air Cargo Association (ACD) and VP Germany Lufthansa Cargo, stated. Words he chose deliberately during his short welcoming speech, while introducing the Executive Director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association to the more than 60 attendees of the Zoom meeting; most of them ACD members, complemented by some representatives of U.S. agencies.
It was Brandon Fried’s first video call with high-ranking members of the German aviation and logistics industry in his 40+ year career as an influential voice of the U.S. transport business. And he was not afraid to make some uncomfortable statements:
- “Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration aimed at protecting U.S. jobs are not coming down very soon.”
- “Most U.S. airports, particularly the highly frequented gateways, lack modern technology. Too little state funds were put into infrastructure in recent years. This led to traffic congestions, jammed warehouses, and the optical impression (he pointed at JFK as a warning example) is rather reminiscent of some airports in the third world. This jeopardizes transport quality and scares off young talents.”
- “Cybersecurity is still insufficient, making vital infrastructure vulnerable to attacks, not just in the States, but elsewhere. Recently seen by the blockade of a gasoline pipeline by hackers, causing significant supply shortages throughout the eastern parts of the U.S.”
- Roughly 30% of staff working in the U.S. aviation industry lost their jobs during the pandemic. Now that the economy is recovering in a very robust fashion, airlines and ground service providers can’t get people back to work quickly enough, causing delays and harming supplies.”
These were the critical issues touched on by Mr. Fried. Yet, anyone who has ever met with or talked to this iconic figurehead of the U.S. Airforwarders Association knows that the industry veteran’s glass is always half full rather than half empty. This positive attitude regarding the air freight and logistics business he voiced over and again during his presentation.
COVID-19 improved cargo reputation
CFG asked him if the air freight industry is currently experiencing a reputational change caused by its extraordinary performance in COVID-19 times, turning its nimbus from formerly bad or awfully bad to at least neutral or even good in the eyes of the broad public.
Here is Brandon’s reply: “In pre-Covid times, when I touched on air freight issues in meetings, people went silent and discussions stopped instantly. My perception was that many didn’t fully understand the business, were not well informed or directly involved, which explains why they paid little attention to this subject. Unfortunately, the same applies to airlines, shown by the fact that cargo didn’t have a seat in the boardroom of renowned U.S. carriers. Meanwhile, however, the wind has turned with everybody realizing that air freight has become an economic and practical lifeboat for the world, prompting passenger carriers to treat cargo very respectfully. Their managers have finally understood that the freight business is essential to securing their company’s earnings. This even more since the next pandemic could be around the corner and air freight may be desperately needed again to keep vital supply chains running and airlines financially afloat.”
Not practical, but expensive
Asked whether leading U.S. or European industrial manufacturers tend towards ending the offshoring era, bringing production back home to secure supplies in times of crisis, Mr. Fried remained skeptical. “Shifting semiconductor, pharma, or food production from the Far East over to Europe or the U.S. – is that practical? No, but costly!”
He voiced high respect for employees of cargo airlines, ground handlers, and freight forwarders. “What these people have accomplished since the outbreak of the pandemic, is something else and cannot be appreciated enough.” In case of a major challenge, such as severe traffic jams at Rickenbacker Airport in Ohio, it was mostly forwarders who turned into flexible problem solvers, keeping the business running.
So, what’s ahead for air cargo? This question stood on top of one of Brandon’s last charts.
There, he outlined 4 key topics with environmental sustainability standing highest on the list for the freight and logistics industry in Europe, but to a somehow lesser degree compared to the U.S.
Of equal importance is cybersecurity to safeguard the integrity of products and data flows.
Sometime in the near future are two other issues: The transport of people and goods in supersonic aircraft, as recently indicated by the order of 15 ultrafast airplanes by United Airlines. This also applies to cargo rockets as considered by the Pentagon to enable superfast deliveries to military hot spots. And what makes sense for the military could also be useful for commercial purposes, the U.S. Airforwarders Association’s helmsman reasoned.
At the end of his presentation, he sent his greetings and appreciation to the colleagues of TIACA: “The association is the mothership of the air freight industry,” Brandon exclaimed. And their Director General Glyn Hughes is “the right guy in the right place.”
Not much to add to this.
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