“This is a Third World airport,” said a former U.S. president, referring to New York's JFK. And there are a lot of JFKs throughout the States, with delipidated infrastructure and technical systems stemming from the last century. Deficits that also apply to the air freight landscape, that has long complained about outdated warehouses and archaic systems.
Complaints that have apparently been heard. So there is hope for improvement. Encourager is a tender won by a team consisting of the Canadian aviation and logistics firm SASI World and
the Transportation Research Board (TRB) which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the United States. Their joint mission reads: Developing a guidebook for
U.S. airports of all types and sizes to help modernize their cargo facilities, update processes and operations in coordination with key logistics stakeholders.
A job that demands collecting and collating huge amounts of data, talking to industry representatives, face-to-face impressions in the field and a multitude of online conferences. The result should be a guidebook that not only identifies deficits, but also contains precise, cross-airport improvements and urgently required modernization measures.
We spoke with SASI president and co-founder Stan Wraight about the extremely demanding project.
CFG: Congratulations on the contract. Sounds like a mammoth task given the poor airport infrastructure at many U.S. airports. Said this, which investigation objectives stand on top of your list? Can you prioritize?
SW: Indeed, it’s a mammoth task if you take into account what all the issues are with global aviation today, but in air cargo the lessons learned in the past years in our team,
as we worked with airports globally, make us confident we can do this on time and in a user-friendly way. We have worked with and helped introduce best in class designs globally learning from
providers of warehouse facility technology like Material Handling Systems (MSHS), Automated sort and retrieval Systems (ASRS), Automation and technology that is possible within those facilities
and most of all what airports can achieve by hosting Air Cargo Community Systems. We work with many property developers and those that “get it” that they have to become a marketing tool for
airlines and airports and for that matter all stakeholders on and off airports and not just a landlord, they also have best practises to share. Re the infrastructure, yes in many cases it is
outdated or no longer fit for purpose, but that is not just in the USA by any stretch of the imagination.
CFG: There are many airports in the USA. Which ones and how many do you intend to include in the study?
SW: First we have the benefit of having very senior level contacts in many, many airports globally and in the USA as well. This gives us an advantage in starting and completing this project as we have learned so much in the past years globally. We intend to work with a very large sample of airports in every category be it small, medium or large. If there is a benefit to be achieved for the airport and its local economy and needs, we will make sure this guidebook is useful for them.
CFG: According to your announcement, all stakeholders are to be involved. Are they given identical work packages at each of the involved airports they should execute or how do you plan to achieve comparable results?
SW: When we say all stakeholders, we mean we will seek the input of every stakeholder in the chain like airports, airlines, GHA, GSSA, forwarders, government authorities like customs - security - agriculture - economic development etc., e-Commerce companies and e- Retailers and Integrators as well. But we will also seek out the needs and wants of shippers and importers, the Beneficial Cargo Owners or BCOs as we call them will have their say as well.
CFG: In view of the large number of players involved, the question arises as to how the investigations are to be coordinated. Because in the end, an overall result supported by all parties should be tabled.
SW: It will and I have two very experienced and talented executives in our SASI USA office as co project leaders in this, Mark Diamond and Charles Edwards. We are very experienced in this type of activity having worked with in person interviews, training, workshops and also the “zoom” new experience way of doing things to work effectively. One recent example was some work for a major airport where we interviewed over 45 stakeholders throughout the chain there, for over 40 hours in total. And that’s not an exception for us, SASI has conducted hundreds and hundreds of stakeholder discussions in the past few years for many airports.
CFG: When will practical work begin and at which airports?
SW: We plan to start around September of this year, and we will be having a virtual internal conference in the next weeks with all the SASI team of course, but also with members from outside who will join us such as Academia, former officials with particular knowledge of USA safety and security aspects, etc. That’s when we will identify the process exact timetable and accountability, internal teams and choose airports. Just an aside, we already have many, many airports that have agreed to participate throughout.
CFG: When do SASI and its partner, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, expect to present the first survey results?
SW: Our objective is to have this all done, accepted and ready to be distributed within the timeframe allowed, which is 18 months. Internally we want to speed this up for the first draft phase so we can go back and test assumptions as well to make sure it’s spot on as to what is needed.
CFG: The end result should be a guidebook for supporting U.S. airports to modernize their air freight facilities. Who will ensure that the findings are put into practice and do not disappear in the drawers of airport managers?
SW: That’s always and issue and that’s why I will never allow SASI to be called consultants. Let me explain, we are a team of very experienced management team that have actually done all the tasks as senior management and that includes airport master planning, developing warehouse facility designs, involved ourselves very heavily into logistics technology on airport etc. We are an advisory, but we implement when asked, we produce reports of course but if requested we actually implement our recommendations on the ground. We have never yet had a client who put our work "in the right-hand drawer" as they say as we engage every step of the way to ensure that won’t happen.
We cannot guarantee that every U.S.-based airport will accept our report and guidebook, but our intention is to ensure it makes sense to do so, is easy to use, and most of all is explained in a way that makes sense for them to do something so that their airport can maximize the benefits for both economic and environmental reasons. Modern logistics requires Speed, Transparency, Quality and when explained to airports in this fashion, we hope the message will be accepted that these recommendations can ensure their airport is fit for purpose.
CFG: Stan, thank you for delivering the broad picture of your endeavor and good fortune.
Interview: Heiner Siegmund
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