If you’ve been to an air cargo logistics conference in the last seven years and you heard a Dutch-accented voice from a tall, dapper gentleman asking probing questions about why the industry is so woefully behind regarding data transparency, then you’ve probably become acquainted with Joost van Doesburg (pictured), the airfreight policy advisor representing EVO (the Dutch Shippers Council) and the European Shippers Council.
Since 2007, van Doesburg has been politely – but firmly and fearlessly – pointing out the many flaws in the current state of the airfreight industry from the perspective of the ultimate cargo customers – the shippers. At the end of October, however, this important voice of the shipper (some might say “thorn in the industry’s side”) stepped down to take a new position as public affairs officer at Vereniging Nederlandse Verkeersvliegers (VDV), the Dutch airline pilots’ association.
Over the years, van Doesburg has been a tireless advocate for the needs of shippers, calling for more widespread use of digital technology to keep up with consumer demand and to find ways to simplify the supply chain. Before he left EVO/ESC, Air Cargo World spoke with him about what it’s been like to speak truth to power in this industry and whether he feels he made a difference.
ACW: What do you consider your greatest triumphs at EVO/ESC?
In some ways, our greatest triumph was one of my first victories – although it was a very negative chapter. It was our role in exposing the illegal price-fixing scandal in 2007. I started telling carriers, “this has happened, so let’s make sure it never happens again.” On the express side, one of my most special moments was helping to stop the merger of UPS and TNT. While everyone was just assuming it would happen, the only one to stop it was the European Commission. We’re much happier that TNT could merge with FedEx instead. FedEx is not nearly as active in intra-Europe express as UPS is. FedEx would be a much stronger player that could challenge UPS and DHL.
ACW: What are the most important problems that the air cargo industry needs to solve?
Air cargo is still considered a “black box” for many shippers. The industry needs to stop talking about each other and start talking with each other. Every component of the supply chain keeps the rest of the components hostage. Forwarders aren’t the only problem, but as the middlemen, they used to make sure there was little contact between carriers and shippers. Every part of each vertical should be designed completely to shippers’ specifications, and implemented from start to finish, from consigner to consignee. Just look at the integrators – our members like them because there’s always a fierce competition on service.
ACW: Why do you feel that the airfreight industry has been so slow to modernize?
I still remember my first air cargo event – they talked a lot about how “e-freight” was still coming. This was 2007, but they were still talking about “Cargo 2000.” Today, they’ve changed the name to “C2K,” which is a little less embarrassing, but they can probably use those same slides [from 2007] over and over again! There has always been this excuse I heard from forwarders that many countries do not allow [them] to use electronic air waybills [e-AWB]. In reality, it’s only a very small part of the truth. Forwarders do not offer such service in any active way. By not modernizing, [forwarders] are creating a hurdle that is beneficial to themselves.
ACW: Is there more that shippers can do to improve airfreight performance?
Yes, the shippers aren’t entirely blameless; they have contributed to communication problems. The impression has been that shippers are only concerned with price, while forwarders and airlines can only offer a better price. But really, price should be one-third of total service. The rest of the focus should be on meeting the shippers’ quality specifications as the main priority, followed by speed – getting it there reliably on time – followed by price.
ACW: What has the air cargo industry done right so far?
I am hopeful that the new C2K team is at least focusing on transparency of quality standards now. There has to be one accepted way of measuring quality. IATA is also doing well with the CEIV-Pharma program. This will ensure that forwarders work with many more airlines – and over the last seven years, they have started to communicate more with each other. When I started, the number of shippers was low at air cargo events, but that has really changed now. I have always believed that air cargo was a resilient industry.
ACW: What has the general reaction been to your announcement?
I got a lot of emails and calls from the leaders of the industry, saying, “You kept us shipping-focused.” A lot probably were happy to see I’m leaving, since I was a pain in the ass to some of them. Sometimes I was even verbally attacked at conferences. But I always tried to represent shippers the best way I can. Generally, the response from most people has been supportive.
ACW: Has a successor been chosen? Can you offer any parting advice?
We’ve already started our process of finding a “new Joost” – they’ll probably have a name by January. All I can say is, I hope he likes a good struggle. To shippers, I recommend getting more involved with their supply chain – perhaps create a sub-department just for the supply chain. To the air cargo industry, I say those who invest in digital booking will be the ones to survive. And finally, if you pay people peanuts, you will only get monkeys.