… Start doing the obvious and stop whining, recommends Head of Logistics Management and former leading cargo manager at operator, Fraport AG, Bernhard Lessmann. Cargo handlers should move to organize all the airside processes of the air cargo product, from the arrival of the goods all the way through to their delivery to truckers or forwarding agents at warehouses. A long overdue move, since all the action in modern air freight logistics is on the ground. And cargo handlers are the only ones capable of executing the entire handling process from A to Z.
Current handling processes must be revolutionized
In air freight, lately, most airlines have taken on a role resembling that of ordinary bus drivers. Ideas from the 90s that carriers could and should adopt the "integrator business model" have been strongly rejected, especially by the larger air freight forwarders. Hence, any tentative ambitions of European airlines to change procedures were torpedoed up to now, and alternative cargo including ground handling conceptions were shelved. The consequences are growing operational hiccups in airline cargo handling. All the more so, since decisions were transferred from local or regional level to the headquarters of airlines, be they at Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, or Amsterdam. There, management dictates through tenders how the cargo handling business must be executed, very often adopting a “one size fits all” concept, irrespective of local conditions. At the same time, passenger airlines entrust local sales agents with the handling task, who then start tenders to contract suitable candidates to perform the job. The bitter results are shown day after day: most airlines operating at "spoke" airports, lack operational air freight know-how because their local staff or GSAs are predominantly passenger-oriented. Hence, airport operators and freight forwarders generally do not find adequate contact persons at carriers, to discuss and further develop air freight processes to better the flow of goods.
Formula for success
And all this is against a backdrop where all the action in modern air freight logistics is on the ground, especially in import. Sustainable customer satisfaction is only achieved when goods arrive at the consignee on time. For this to happen, the ground processes at the departure and destination airports have to function very smoothly. The formula to achieve this is well known and can be implemented easily at any airport:
It must be assured that, after landing, air freight imports are identified as quickly as possible, separated following customs clearance and regulatory approval, and dealt with with the utmost efficiency to meet the contractually agreed transfer and handover times.
This is not rocket science, yet when all this is done from a single source – with the cargo handling agent sitting in the driver’s seat – it should work.
Once a shipment is airborne, competitive time advantages are no longer achievable. A B777F, for instance, flies as fast as an A330F on a given route. Gains can only be attained on the ground, provided the processes are streamlined.
The reality looks bleak
However, this is wishful thinking measured against the reality. This raises the question as to what is preventing cargo handlers from fully performing this task? It is the contracts between airlines and the ground handling agents! As previously mentioned, these contracts are dictated by the airlines’ headquarters, are based on identical standards, and applied universally. Individual situations and processes, especially at large airports, are mostly ignored. Hence, pacta sunt servanda, as the ancient Romans used to say. What is contractually carved in stone, such as transport times between on-block and cargo transfer points, leads to conflicts of objectives and results in congestions, especially during peak times.
Some parameters need to be changed
There is no question that inbound flights have to be unloaded quickly so that the planned turnaround times can be met against the background of globally timed slots. But:
- Why do air freight products that are not prioritized, such as “Consol”, have to arrive at the freight transfer point just as quickly as express shipments, even though the downstream stakeholders are not yet ready to start the next production process?
- Are there any arguments against more flexible ground transports within airports, to avoid jams at freight transfer points? Especially since congestion is often exacerbated by unpunctual freighters.
- Even urgent LAT shipments can be processed more rationally to optimize the flow of goods between arrival at the airport and the goods’ departure.
The GSA as white knight?
The solution to end today’s insufficiencies: General Cargo Handling Agents organize the air cargo product from arrival to departure or vice versa in the case of imports. It is a holistic approach with the agent taking on the role as "cargo hub organizer" for all non-hub carriers at major spoke airports. This would put them in control of all airside processes. The major advantage: Passenger ground logistics can then no longer be favored at the expense of cargo processes, prevented by a separate contract. Practically, it would be a change from “push” to “pull”, resembling the operational practices of integrators. This must be coupled with transparent data exchange preceding a physical shipment, such as the Cargo Community Systems Fair@Link/ FRA-OS provided by IT manager, Dakosy, in Frankfurt, for example.
The modern Cargo Handling Agent normally knows the operational needs of both its mandate airlines and the forwarders! They are therefore in an integrated position between forwarder and airline, mediating between their respective interests.
Acting on equal terms
At hub airports such as Frankfurt, for instance, it is recommendable that the local stations of Swissport, LUG, FCS, etc., acquire the entire airside process from the ground handling subsidiaries of local hub carriers. This goes from unloading imports to loading, in the case of exports.
This would affect actors such as Fraport-BVD or WISAG. They could then compete on equal terms with the ground handling subsidiaries of hub carriers or their external contractors. For instance, in Frankfurt, this would be the Lufthansa Cargo Center that manages the throughput of the airline.
Assuming this is the case, the cargo handling agent ultimately controls the entire airside process between the flight and the cargo terminal with the involvement of the forwarder and vice versa.
So, dear Cargo Handling Agents: Seize your opportunities. Get going – Now!
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