And that’s a good thing. CargoForwarder Global met with Brandon Fried, Executive Director of The Airforwarders Association (AfA), at the World Cargo Symposium in Istanbul last month, to get the low-down on what America’s freight forwarders are currently facing and tackling. Black swans, lipsticks on pigs, and canines were the unlikely menagerie used to illustrate key focus points. The latter two also being emphasized in the “Air Cargo in 5 Years” onstage discussion later the same day, 26APR23, on which Brandon Fried was a panelist.
Starting with the panel message, this was Brandon’s answer to where air cargo will be in five years’ time: “We have a very broad horizon ahead of us: better technology, and increased use of various screening mechanisms including extremely successful canine technology. I am also hoping for continuation of a risk-based approach to our air cargo security policy because we understand the need to screen cargo, but need to focus on entities that pose the most risk for us and to start trusting shippers who deserve our trust.”
And there it is – the canine element – a security measure that Fried is a passionate advocate of and mentions several times in our interview. “I have never seen a dog that has not sat down in front of an explosive,” he underlines. Security is a major part of the Airforwarder Association’s focus. Fried believes the security process should be integrated in the manufacturing process as well and a recent meeting in Miami was centered on encouraging freight forwarders to convince their shippers that they need to be part of a certified screening program.
Zero tolerance for frauds
We talk about the TSA screening program, and he tells me that there has been a surge in applicants to screen their own cargo. I ask him about the recent scandal where a Texan company was fined almost half a million dollars on 20APR23 for having taken payment for explosives checks, but not actually carrying them out. I learn that the company had been part of the Certified Cargo Standard Security Screening Program (CCSSSP) that the TSA had initiated, and Afa had fought hard for, which enables freight forwarders, airlines, trucking, and independent companies to screen their own cargo. This Texan company was one such independent, which failed to truthfully disclose its activities. It had been caught because the screening machine kept records which did not tally with the company’s records during an audit. Brandon emphasizes: “That company was not a member of Afa. We will not tolerate those who choose to evade that hard-fought regulation that has served us as a successful cornerstone for safety in U.S. We expect full and strict punishment for those involved.”
The company is very much a black sheep in what has otherwise been a highly successful screening program for more than 10 years since it was finally pushed through. The driver for the program had been the increased delays at airports if screening was only done there – better to validate and audit trustworthy companies to carry out screening before delivering the cargo to the airport. The TSA has 500 inspectors for air cargo in U.S., routinely auditing all regulated agents and those participating in CCSSSP.
Getting stuck in on congestion
Airport delays and congestion are another pain point that the 225-member-strong Airforwarders Association is lobbying against. “We’re about boots on the ground, taking care of issues,” Fried states, telling me of the many platforms where he advocates for air cargo. A 65-page whitepaper titled “Safeguarding the future of air cargo” published in OCT22, details the congestion issue and is used as an instrument to lobby for investments in airport cargo infrastructures and other efficiency measures. “We hired a Capitol Hill lobbyist, engaging air cargo on senate and house side to educate members of congress on how long trucks are sitting there waiting. The message is that we sell time for a living and cannot wait for hours to get access to a freight facility.”
Major U.S. gateway airports are losing business to smaller airports, he says, a trend that he believes will grow going forward. “We use belly space, too, so it is up to everyone to roll up their sleeves, get to work and figure this out,” he concludes, referring to otherwise split cargo operations, given the passenger bellies landing at large airports whilst freighters prefer smaller, less congested airports.
Preparing for the next Black Swan
What were the silver linings of the pandemic for AfA, CFG wants to know? “We are extremely sorry for those who lost loved ones during the pandemic. At the beginning stages, it was touch and go for our industry, as it was for many,” Brandon Fried says. “As the pandemic progressed, we were able to show shippers, suppliers, and manufacturers that we are very valuable logistics problem solvers. We could deliver what was needed at a time when people needed us most.”
The incredibly busy time during the pandemic led to thousands of charters, unsurpassed volumes and profits, but also employees that were worked to the bone. “Cargo served as the economic lifeboat to these airlines, and we hope that airline leaderships throughout the world understand the value of cargo and make sure that cargo has seat at board table too, because you never know when next black swan event will occur. We need to avoid Short-term Memory Syndrome,” he underlines, stating that the core emphasis is often still on passenger airlines.
Make it hard for the Bad Guys
We return to security programs: “The role of a risk-based approach to security programs must be the overriding principle of any country’s security agenda,” he stresses, and hopes that the future will bring harmonized security processes across all countries. “Let’s get on the same page. Bad guys have it harder to succeed if we’re all the same.”
That goes for all kinds of security aspects. Cybersecurity is another major concern. “It is hard to find a member that has not been adversely impacted through this. It interrupts the commercial flow of goods, paralyzing operations. The TSA now requires Afa to have a Cybersecurity operator in the office 24/7, to report to homeland security,” Fried says, concerned. “We have to be right all the time,” he says, “The hacker only has to be right once. This is a big issue!”
People make us successful
We go on to discuss many other aspects of safety, security, infrastructure, regulations, and collaboration. “Communication is key,” whether this is in industry working groups with or in daily business. Partnering with other associations is an essential component for success. “We may not agree on everything but will generally be more successful if we all move the stone together,” he concludes, whether this is in security topics, sustainability, or digitalization. Regarding the latter, he stresses: “Never forget that people make us successful”.
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