What shippers really want: Airfreight’s true customers speak out

Airport codes BCN and BQN are strikingly similar at first glance. But to a Spanish pharmaceutical manufacturer in Barcelona, located thousands of miles from a misdirected shipment of temperature-sensitive components languishing in a warehouse in Puerto Rico, that one letter represents millions of dollars per day.

This scenario, and others like it, are all still too familiar. Just ask Bernhard Baertschi, head of export for Switzerland-headquartered Bioforce AG. “Normally we use ocean, and never have any problems,” he said. But when his company switched to air to get an urgent shipment to Australia, “the pallet was completely destroyed and lopsided.”

With each such debacle, the airfreight industry reinforced its reputation as a costly and unreliable option – despite providing the rapid connectivity that underpinned the modern economy. Industry veterans would swap stories of seafood simmering on landing strips and, eventually, folks started to believe the aphorism that, “if you have to fly it, you’ve already made a mistake.

But in 2017, airfreight is undergoing a paradigm shift, of sorts, and the overwhelming sentiment throughout the supply chain is a willingness to cooperate, in order to realize airfreight’s potential and maximize its value proposition.

The industry also understands that companies that fight change will sink. From freight forwarders to carriers and ground handlers, “companies understand that it is better to be part of this “new future” than to fight it,” said Robert Mellin, engagement lead at Ericsson Industry & Society.

Along with seven other representatives of multinational shippers that make up TIACA’s Shippers’ Advisory Committee (SAC), Mellin has published a call to action, urging the airfreight industry to embrace the possibilities of technology and change. “Shippers want predictable, reliable, secure and sustainable distribution for their cargo,” the position paper states. The SAC intends to provide the roadmap.

The committee sets out to “spark debate on how to innovate, be it adopting new processes, or adopting new technology.” But, the reliably high billing of innovation panels at airfreight conferences, and the persistence of the theme in industry discourse, suggest that realizing these goals in a fractured and often recalcitrant industry won’t be easy.

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