NASHVILLE — Why are associations important in making cargo move? It’s a question best not asked to Congress, said one panelist, Brandon Fried, executive director, the Airforwarders Association, as he fondly recalled past encounters with Congressmen harnessing distorted views of a “dangerous” airfreight industry. In essence, a single Congressman riled up by the period’s pressing aircraft security or safety-related current events, which may have absolutely nothing to do with the air cargo industry, can overshadow the benefits and necessity of the industry without a unified voice coming from the joint efforts of the various organizations.
In the initial panel discussion of the CNS Partnership Conference, the panel’s moderator, Laura Sanders, vice president of operations at Lynden International, began the panel by trying to get a feel for the issues most pressing to industry-stakeholders in the audience. Not surprisingly, security and safety were most prominent, receiving 45 percent and 15 percent of the vote respectively.
Turning to the panel members, it became clear the degree to which the work of each organization represented, had touched upon pressing security issues. Specifically, the role organizations play in influencing safety and security related legislation, whether in drafting and negotiating proposed regulations, or ensuring misguided legislation such as calls to remove freight from passenger planes completely, is shut down.
Fried highlighted the increasing existence of what he calls “regulatory creep,” or Washington’s propensity to solve issues with more regulation that has potentially “crushing effects on the industry.” Much of the proposed regulation, he added, comes with an added cost and does little for security.
That is not to say associations are not concerned with safety and security, said Glyn Hughes, IATA’s global head of cargo. Decision-makers, industry players and regulators sharing the same prerogative is a key objective of organizations. “We need to collectively collaborate to make sure responses are proportionate to risk.” Using lithium batteries as an example, Hughes noted that shippers who comply with existing standards pose little threat to safety. It is, instead, the “counterfeit manufacturers,” which operate outside of international standards, that are unconcerned about safety and do not declare their shipments to forwarders — efforts should instead focus on “stepping up regulations” to prevent counterfeit products from going through shipping channels in an unidentified condition.
On a lighter note, the panel compared the voice of Washington, D.C., with the voice of the common public, which, when it comes to the airfreight industry, is often uninformed — a condition that all panelists and the audience agreed needs to change.
Hughes discussed the “value of air cargo program” launched by IATA a few years ago in a Kuala Lumpur Airport Terminal. Simple posters highlighting the different product verticals that rely on air cargo — from fresh flowers to Formula One cars, were set about the terminal to give the general public a message they could easily grasp — that many of the goods readily available in the world around, and 35 percent of world trade by value, relies on air cargo. Once a person is able to draw a personal connection to the industry, the value proposition of air cargo transport becomes clear, he added.
On a closing note, the panel reiterated the need to take action on legislation coming down the pipeline today in order to ensure that the air cargo industry is on the up-side of new legislation. New bills, such as the air-traffic control-related AirACCT, which have tremendous benefits for the industry, face an uphill battle in the absence of a unified and collaborative voice coming from the joint efforts of the industry’s various associations.