Cargo Insights: Do you have an appointment?

Brandon Fried, executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association

The dentist’s office just called to confirm my appointment for a semiannual checkup next week. The reminder is always welcome, since missing the appointed time puts me back in the queue, delaying treatment and disrupting schedules on both sides. Appointments are essential because if everyone just showed up unexpectedly at the dentist’s office, there would be total chaos. Unfortunately, not all industries have devised a functional system to keep order.

At strategic gateway airports, chaos is quickly becoming the norm, as truckers anxious to tender and retrieve their air cargo shipments show up without appointments. As a result of this onslaught, waiting times at ground handling terminals are increasing, deliveries are delayed and forwarders are paying the price.

Thanks to modern technology, a few innovative companies are teaming up with airlines and their ground handlers to develop appointment software for dropping off and recovering freight. These applications promise to reduce airport cargo congestion, limiting protracted wait times, and of course, frustration with the status quo.

Relying on this kind of technology is an excellent way to inject modern business processes into an ongoing challenge, and it has started to yield successful results. The industry should support these efforts, by encouraging airports to form working groups made up of local and regional stakeholders who can identify opportunities for efficiency and innovation. Both planning and money will be needed to address the challenge. But while we collectively work to reduce frustration, that won’t resolve the issue as a whole.

Unfortunately, a quick fix, no matter how ambitious, seldom brings lasting relief to a complex situation like congestion. We can’t allow short-term relief brought on by these new scheduling solutions to mask the underlying issues of aging and deteriorating infrastructure at many airports, especially primary gateways. These physical access challenges will not be solved permanently with computer software alone, and there must be a renewed focus on the underlying infrastructure issues that are exacerbating the problem.

During a recent Los Angeles town hall meeting, experts discussed potential ways to decrease truck crowding. Dividing import and export traffic streams was one promising idea. Import shipments could relocate to nearby warehouses away from the airport. This, combined with appointment setting technology, could reduce the number of trucks on the airport grounds and save time for the trucker and money for the forwarder.

Municipalities must understand that investment in the capacity to facilitate trade is a win for everyone. Cities with efficient airport access create favorable business settings for consumers, service providers, manufacturers and retailers who bring economic vitality to the area. Further, there will be environmental benefits from reducing substantial carbon emissions generated by idling trucks waiting to use cargo facilities.

The United States joins many countries throughout the world in experiencing one of the most prolonged periods of economic expansion in recent memory. The prosperity is propelled by increased trade between nations, but our airports cannot solely focus on managing the surging passenger demand. The movement of people is just as essential as the goods they produce to keep economies thriving. Airfreight shipments support manufacturing jobs and economic development, by providing a solution for companies trying to solve the challenge of saving time.

Despite economic concerns sparked by trade war uncertainty, experts agree that the air cargo industry is poised to grow more than 4% per year, adding momentum to global growth. Gateways failing to respond to increasing truck congestion could suffer a loss of business for their airports and the cities they serve. Nearby airfields may seize the opportunity to grab market share by promoting themselves to airlines and forwarders as alternative destinations serving the same geographic area. If successful, the cargo activity that many big airports once took for granted may quickly erode. Like a rough trip to the dentist, the loss of business may be painful as rivals, without an appointment, open the door for new competition.

This column appeared originally in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Air Cargo World. To read the full issue, click here.

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