It’s the way that you do it… “Quality and Compliance - Existing quality programs, do they meet the industry's needs?” is the title of the panel I have been asked to moderate at the upcoming ACHL in Athens later this month. A huge topic which, rather like Medusa’s head, has an almost infinite number of directions it can head off into.
Why is that? Quite simply, because of the number of stakeholders involved in our industry – be they the various actors along the air cargo transport chain, or the numerous authorities and associations involved. And then, of course, there’s always the customer.
Who determines quality?
And that brings us to the first question: who determines quality? A current LinkedIn poll on my page is leaning heavily towards the customer as correct answer. Air cargo consultant, Renato Reckmann, elaborated: “The customer defines what level of quality he needs from a carrier. IATA, their member carriers and stakeholders set the standards and best practices for the industry. Governments are in charge for laws and rules that everyone should adhere to in order to enhance security and promote a fair play.” The customer has an expectation – likely that the shipment is transported safely, securely, and quickly, and arrives undamaged and in good condition within a certain time frame. And that expectation is placed with their direct contract partner – be it the freight forwarder or the airline.
It's the way that you do it
The standards and best practices applicable to the air cargo industry come in all shapes and sizes, depending on commodity, aircraft type, airline, business interest, governing bodies, regulations, local facilities/infrastructure, available resources, etc. The air cargo transport chain is a time-sensitive interplay usually of shipper, forwarder, road feeder service, handling agent, ground services, customs, airport, and airline, and the same in reverse order at the other end, all the way to the consignee.
Because so many parties are involved, quality can only be delivered if everyone has the same understanding and aims for the same level of compliance and performance. In the words of the American father of Total Quality Management, W. Edwards Deming: “Quality is everyone’s responsibility”. Until things go wrong, which, in the worst case, is when finger-pointing begins, and responsibility turns to blame.
Quality in air cargo.
As it stands, there are many certification programs, but with varying degrees of legal weight or influence. An airline is bound to comply by the regulations set out by its AOC, accorded to its by the responsible CAA. Regulated Agents are approved. GHAs and service providers can become ISAGO certified, but this does not free an airline from its quality obligations should the agent not perform. CargoIQ offers a quality monitoring solution based on messaging milestones and time-stamps, but 25 years on, not everyone in the industry is yet a member. Added to that, airlines can define their own time stamp periods, so a GHA might be faced with very differing requirements from its various airline clients. IATA’s CEIV certifications denote audited quality standards in the transport of certain commodities, but here, too, implementation among the airline and handling community is slow – possibly due to cost or the knowledge that local facilities cannot yet deliver what is required?
Too many audits spoil the broth?
And then who determines whether or not a company’s services are up to par? Audits are the preferred solution – yet these can be carried out internally, or by third-party auditors, or airline auditors. Scenarios these days can see a GHA auditing itself on a regular basis, being audited by an external body, and again by every airline it serves. All with possibly different outcomes, depending on the quality and approach of the auditor. After all, who ensures that auditors do their job correctly and well? Is the audit subjective or objective? Efficient or unnecessarily resource-intensive?
A million questions
So, the questions are many. For example:
- Does CargoIQ cover the entire supply chain and when will it reach full industry coverage?
- What are the barriers to service quality?
- If quality could be reduced to a single time-stamp, which would it be?
- Are we making full use of the all the Big Data available in our industry, to improve quality visibility and performance?
- Should quality measurement/transparency come with a price?
- Can quality management be overdone?
- Who is responsible when things go wrong?
- Are staff willing to speak up if quality standards are not being met?
- Where is the sphere of influence at monopoly airports?
- Is quality going downhill, stagnant or improving across the industry and why?
- Are quality expectations changing? And what is the pace of change vs the pace of regulation?
- Who does quality best?
What direction do you think the panel will take on 21SEP23? And if you’re attending, what questions will you have for our panel?
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