By David Ambridge
When I was asked to speak about quality, I struggled to find something to say. I looked back over the last year and tried to see what had changed, and if or how quality had improved.
I started to consider the work that is being done by the Cargo Operations Advisory Group (COAG), an initiative from the International Air Transport Association to bring interested parties from airlines, GHAs and IATA together to improve the way we have done business over the last four decades.
COAG is working to develop real quality standards for our industry globally. Each country can have its own standards, but we all need to measure the same indicators and agree what needs to be measured.
We at COAG are identifying what we believe to be the key performance indicators to evaluate. There are 12-15 items, and they are broadly based and encompass all Cargo 2000 parameters.
Integrators are far ahead in terms of quality because it is a core part of their philosophy and investment. Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, said, “You have to put your money where your mouth is. There isn’t a year that’s gone by where we haven’t invested an enormous amount into trying to make the service better.”
How many airlines can honestly say the same about their business? How much do we invest in improving quality each year? My guess would be not very much.
I sit in my office for hours thinking of ways to make our business better for our customers. We analyze and learn from every mistake and come up with new systems and processes to stop errors from happening again.
Less and less cargo is being moved by air just about every year. Yet we have more aircraft flying than ever before and more parked in deserts than ever before. But I still think we have great opportunities ahead of us – if we can just understand what it is that our customers want.
This is exactly what the integrators do at yields far higher than we have in the air cargo business. There is little doubt in my mind that people will pay for quality. So why don’t airlines also think this?
People will pay for real quality. We just need to identify what they want and then deliver it every time. For instance, why don’t airlines offer money-back guarantees if cargo does not get to the destination airport on time?
We need to figure out if minutes, hours or even days can be taken out of the shipping cycle. At Bangkok Flight Services, if the airline’s RCF time is actual time of arrival plus three hours, we deliver it in two hours. We do it because we want to be the best, not because we will earn extra revenue. Instead of picking the lowest common denominator, I made my own one that is higher and better than any airline asks for. How many other GHAs can stand up and say the same?
COAG, IATA or any other association cannot dictate service standards or the time it takes to complete certain functions, but they have the right to question and to challenge. If a shipment takes six hours today, we should see if there is a way to do it in five hours in the future.
Within Worldwide Flight Services, we are being forced to improve by some airlines demanding quality. This is something that I hope to see other airlines adopt. It will force all GHAs to improve quality, especially in their worst performing stations. This is beneficial for the industry as a whole as standards are raised and service is improved.
Unfortunately, E-AWB is not growing at the rate that it should. This one initiative can take 1-2 days out of the shipping cycle and reduces costs to all parties. Information is sent in advance, allowing agents to begin Customs clearance before the aircraft even arrives.
That is real quality. So why hasn’t every airline and every large global forwarder signed on? The GHAs are more than ready for this and, in some cases, offering discounts to customers using E-AWB. I was pleased to see that Qatar Airways and American Airlines are now signed to the multilateral agreement.
We need good leadership in our industry – an individual or group of people who will stand up and say, “This is just not good enough,” and then do something about it.
I hope these people are called COAG. This group has a desire to make the airfreight business simpler, more efficient and more transparent. Standardization of procedures, processes and quality measurements are all on our agenda. We do not know how quickly we can deliver them, but we will not accept “no.” Accepting that in the past has brought us to where we are today. We cannot afford to keep accepting that when we have a clear alternative. We can change this business for the better. If we don’t, we will watch it fail.
That is not an option for me, and I hope not one for anyone else.
David Ambridge is general manager cargo at Bangkok Flight Services and director cargo operations for Asia and Africa at Worldwide Flight Services. This is an excerpt of a speech he gave at the Air Cargo Handling Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.