A local focus can reveal universal truths

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

The common phrase “all politics is local” describes the principle that political success is directly tied to politicians’ ability to understand and influence the issues of their local constituents. Politicians must appeal to seemingly mundane and simple concerns of those who elect them because personal issues, rather than big and intangible ideas, are what voters care about most. As I recently discovered, these personal and local issues are equally as important to members of trade associations.

Earlier this year, I received a phone call from an anxious Chicago-area forwarder expressing frustration at the long lines of trucks trying to access air cargo terminals at O’Hare Airport. Within a few minutes, he sent photos and videos of trucks waiting in a line almost a mile long on the road approaching the cargo area. Thanks to quick legwork from the International Air Cargo Association of Chicago (iacac.com) and a number of concerned freight forwarders, trucking companies, cargo handlers, airlines and local aviation officials, a successful town hall meeting was organized, and our organization was invited to participate. The problem has not been completely solved, but all the right people were in the room to identify issues and propose solutions.

The O’Hare congestion situation serves as a reminder that, while issues in Washington, D.C., are important, venturing “outside the Beltway” is essential to address challenges forwarders are experiencing locally. It reinforces why spending time where our members – my “constituents” – are located is crucial. Let’s call it “going back to my district,” except my district is the whole United States.

In the spring I took a trip to Columbus, Ohio, which included a tour of Rickenbacker Airport, a formerly underused U.S. Air Force facility that is fast becoming one of freight forwarding’s best-kept secrets. Known for many years as a distribution airport for a popular clothing company, Rickenbacker now hosts flights from at least four major airlines, including FedEx, Emirates, Cargolux and Cathay Pacific. Each of these airlines offers space to forwarders that wish to seek alternatives to neighboring regional airports, including overcrowded O’Hare. When you step outside of your familiar surroundings, it’s amazing what you’ll find.

Continuing the local outreach, the Airforwarders Association recently hosted an evening event in Los Angeles, featuring a panel of experts that discussed upcoming pre-loading, advanced import and export data initiatives. There are many potential requirements under consideration, including one that may result in new regulations requiring forwarders to file shipment information before tendering to an airline. Errors in these filings would result in fines and penalties.

The session attracted more than 100 forwarder and airline attendees and featured a discussion on local challenges in and around Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where astounding facts revealed a cry for help. While Los Angeles airport planners have had tunnel-vision on a passenger facility renovation and an access project that includes a state-of-the-art “people-mover” currently under construction, the impact on air cargo facilities has apparently not been considered. LAX is the fifth-busiest airport in the world and second-busiest in the U.S., accommodating 1,500 daily flights in the same amount of space as Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita, Kansas.

LAX handled more than 2 million tons of cargo last year, yet freight terminal space is limited, and road blocks and detours during the people-mover construction process are predicted to create immense delays for truckers and forwarders tendering and retrieving shipments. Based on early estimates, the congestion predicted could exceed the waiting times of up to the nine hours, which forwarders had to endure in Chicago. The city of Los Angeles must address this issue now to prevent further regional economic trauma, similar to the recent labor slowdown that crippled most seaports on the U.S. West Coast earlier this year.

Getting away from Washington provided an opportunity to learn forwarder views on the big issues, as well. During a recent luncheon in Atlanta, for example, I asked a group of forwarders about their views on e-freight and other electronic data initiatives, and received some interesting feedback.

AfA endorses these initiatives as important tools for the future, provided they are made available to all forwarders, regardless of their size. The forwarders at lunch felt that current electronic air-waybill (e-AWB) systems on the market are limited, and only a few options are available for the price. Combined with a lack of standardization and with mixed and confused messaging, many see most of the benefits of e-AWB adoption going to the carrier and little for the forwarder. This is probably why the IATA e-AWB adoption rate has been slow and mounds of paper continue to pile up in forwarder offices. These seemingly insurmountable challenges only mean that the hard work continues, and that achieving success will happen only when all stakeholders work together to eliminate paper and mutually benefit from the automation.

Forwarders do important work in Washington, but the real learning happens outside the Beltway. If you’re a forwarder living in the U.S., look for either me or our AfA directors in your neighborhood soon, because we’re planning on being “in the district.”

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