This year, I resolve to put infrastructure ahead of technology

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

Recent statistics indicate that only 9 percent of New Year’s resolutions made are ever kept for more than a few weeks. At the beginning of each year, many of us promise to eat less, get more exercise, increase charitable contributions or find other creative ways to improve ourselves in hopes of a brighter future. Personally, in addition to becoming more active and starting the latest popular diet, my resolution for 2019 is to gain more knowledge of technology and how automation can play a more significant role, not only at home but throughout the air cargo industry as well.

We hear a lot about automation and see many articles on the subject in industry trade publications (including this one) about our need to pay attention to its benefits. Indeed, freight forwarders are no strangers to technology, and despite some common misperceptions, we are not automation Neanderthals, stuck in the Stone Age, failing to adopt ways in leveraging electronic efficiency to help our customers. In fact, early forwarding companies, including Emery Airfreight and Airborne Freight Corp., emerged in the 1960s with some of the first systems designed to organize shipment data and improve customer service.

However, while the movement of data becomes more of a focus, a personal concern is that we are forgetting the basics of our business, which include, most importantly, physically moving the boxes. All the incredible technology, slick software and data efficiency is worth nothing if we fail to move shipments expeditiously and efficiently. Of course, technology is continuously evolving and can play a more significant role in deriving benefits to achieve our primary goal of getting shipments delivered on time and intact.

Instead of a primary focus on transportation management system technology, let’s resolve to pay more attention in 2019 to our nation’s transport infrastructure. This effort would include state and federal roadway systems, airports and maritime ports. Forcing lawmakers in Washington and the state level to concentrate on improving and paying for roadways to and from points of entry and exit will drive efficiencies that will not only benefit the cargo transportation industry, but improve our nation’s commerce and economic competitiveness.

Over the last two years, I had the opportunity to meet with stakeholders at several major transportation hubs throughout our nation and to varying degrees, all call for infrastructure investment and improvement. At principal gateways, antiquated and inefficient road systems continue to make airport cargo tendering, recoveries and freight transfers horror-movie-level nightmares. Chokepoints abound due to prior poor facility planning and an overall failure to address future demands. As the problem worsens, one political administration always kicks the can to the next administration, until something has to give. Our industry must demand improvement this year.

At a recent listening session held at JFK International Airport, attendees worked to identify the root causes of delays in dropping and recovering cargo throughout the facility. In addition to an inadequate road system to handle large trucks while in the airport itself, many complained about congestion outside the airport caused by feeder roads, such as the infamous Van Wyck Expressway. The highway is inadequate to handle today’s traffic demands, and no technological solution will change the fact that there are too many vehicles on a thoroughfare in desperate need of widening.

Technology continues to provide creative ways to help us manage traffic flow more efficiently, while giving us the vital information needed to spark improvement. However, real solutions will be found not on the computer screen, but in a physical revamping of freight facilities within our airports and maritime ports.

My other resolution for this year includes a continuation of hosting listening forums throughout the United States, bringing stakeholders together and discussing ideas for improvement. This information will be noted, taken back to Washington and shared with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and within the administration, as a promised infrastructure spending package is introduced and becomes law.

A robust economy, combined with significant volume increases, driven by e-commerce, have shown that our industry’s Achilles’ heel is not a failure to adopt technology but a lack of fortitude in advocating for infrastructure improvement. Past generations may have deferred big decisions regarding airport roadway expansion, and port facility improvement to future stakeholders, well after they had served their terms. We can no longer ignore the significant decision deferrals of our predecessors when it comes to infrastructure improvement because doing so will be at our peril.

Interested in learning more about air cargo infrastructure and technology? Consider attending next week’s AirCargo 2019 Conference in Las Vegas, Feb. 10-12, presented by the U.S. Airforwarders Association, the Air & Expedited Motor Carrier Association (AEMCA) and Airports Council International. For more information, visit the conference’s registration page.

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