With cross-border e-commerce, it’s easy to think at 35,000 feet above sea-level – about the planes that carry the cargo and the airlines that operate them. But when it comes to e-commerce’s thirst for expedited delivery, new opportunities for logistics optimization are carved out at other links along the air cargo supply chain as well. It’s important to think about operations on the ground first, where national borders and customs regulations can complicate the situation.
Take road feeder trucking services, for example. They have always been a vital link in the airfreight supply chain, but one that is often invisible, as cargo is transported from one air hub to a regional airport, or to the point of delivery. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, one Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company has built its entire business around making the border irrelevant.
The cornerstone of Mexpress International’s business has been its crossborder, airport-to-airport road feeder service, which utilizes bonded lessthan-truckload (LTL) and full-truckload (FTL) trucking operations to offer “virtual next day air” and “second day air” solutions. Both services link bonded Exclusive Use Vehicles (EUV) on each side of the border with a transfer company that is tasked with moving the trailer across the border from one truck to another without breaking down the load. “Since we handle air cargo originating in Europe/Asia, we have to present the USA inbound documents to Customs and Border Patrol,” to make the transfer, says company president Carlos Duron, a process which he says usually takes just “1-2 hours.” Recently, e-commerce-fueled market demands prompted the company to add last-mile and parcel delivery services, effective May 2.
Mexpress’ bonded services have expanded rapidly in Mexico because many airports in second- and third-tier Mexican cities lack the infrastructure to handle air cargo shipments, and, given their distance from the country’s main international airport in Mexico City, lack direct connectivity with cargo airports in Asia and Europe.
Therefore, much of the international freight destined for smaller cities in Mexico first touches the ground in Los Angeles (LAX) or Dallas (DFW) and then moves onward to Mexico by air or road. According to Duron, “oftentimes, freight on pallets arriving from international destinations, in the bellies of widebody aircraft, simply does not fit on the smaller interline planes traveling to smaller airports,” meaning the freight must be consolidated and flown to Mexico City or Guadalajara, and then trucked to its final destination – or simply carried to the final destination by Mexpress. Mike Gamel, chairman and head of sales, claims that Mexpress’ FTL service from LAX or DFW to smaller Mexican cities “beats the airfreight process to these locations by at least one day.”
At first, Mexpress’ clients, which include airlines, global freight forwarders and integrators, feared the transfer operation was illegal. Duron recounts quelling customer fears by explaining the lengthy pre-approval program required for bonded trucks, and Mexpress’ persistence to run scheduled service between LAX and DFW, “regardless of whether we were carrying one pallet, or a full truck.”
As a pioneer in the business, Mexpress developed its bonded trucking operations as a solution to clearing customs at the border. Initial approval of the program required collaboration with Hacienda, Mexico’s internal revenue service, and the Mexican customs authority, Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT) to obtain the bonded Mexican trucking authority.
Once seen as an obstacle to the customs-free border crossing, Mexican customs and local maquiladora associations, are now some of the greatest proponents of Mexpress service expansions. Duron describes receiving invitations from Index (Consejo Nacional de la Industria Maquiladora y Manufactura de Exportacion) and Mexican Customs to present their road feeder services at jointly held regional meetings. “Especially in smaller airports without the means to handle large passenger planes,” he added, “This service imparts to regions, a virtual air cargo handling business. When we clear customs at the airport instead of at the border, the process is identical, except our trucks arrive at the front entrance, while planes arrive out back, on the tarmac.”
After clearing customs at the destination airport, Mexpress cargo traditionally changed hands for last-mile delivery. Now, however, the company is offering customers the option of having Mexpress handle the entire process, including last-mile and a parcel delivery service. “The program has been in the works for about a year now,” according to Gamel. “It is the result of growing cross-border e-commerce demand,” he added. “Our customers kept asking for this service, because their clients – ecommerce e-tailers, manufacturers, as well as freight forwarders – kept pushing for it.”
The new service, which will launch May 2, will greatly simplify cross-border shipping for Mexpress customers – at a significant cost savings compared to direct courier service. Mexpress will stick to the system it has perfected over the years, trucking freight in bond from airport to airport, without customs clearance until arrival at the destination airport where it will work with local partners to carry out the final delivery.
Selecting the most appropriate local partners was critical to the service. According to Gamel, it was about finding “the best coverage, service and software” and ability to “provide our clients with visibility from origin to destination.” Given this focus, Mexpress has been able to integrate its own tracking system with those of its partners to provide point-to-point delivery information for its customers.
In the beginning, service areas will be limited to the Mexico City area. Within 60 days of launching operations, however, Gamel is optimistic that Mexpress can add Monterrey and Guadalajara, an expansion that will reduce both costs and delivery times for cross-border parcels.