When it comes to freight forwarding, one way to ensure success is proper documentation. A common concern voiced by two airlines is that they have to reject about 40 to 50 percent of hazardous cargo due to improper documentation, sloppy checks or a lack of any checklist at all attached to the cargo. In many cases, too many hands are touching the cargo, which leads to nothing but wasted time, Walton said. This drives up the cost for ground handlers, because then they have to re-load the cargo to a truck, and take it back to where it came from until the proper documentation can be attached.
Another issue is that forwarders dispatch trucks to pick up imported goods before the goods have been customs-cleared, or before terminal fees were collected. “Checking paperwork takes time,” Walton said. “All these things add to the problem.”
Olivier Bijaoui, the executive chairman, president and CEO of WFS, said WFS is focusing on helping to ease these bottlenecks because the company has been investing heavily in its core business, which is cargo handling. “We are reinforcing our position as the leading market provider in all of our markets,” he said. “For example, we are the number-one cargo handler in France, Germany and the U.K.” WFS employs about 14,000 staff and is present at more than 145 major airports in more than 22 countries on five continents, handling more than 4 million tonnes of cargo each year for 300 airlines.
Bjiaoui said ground handling is a strictly-controlled and regulated environment, and meeting these demands requires a high level of quality and professionalism. “We have grown since 1971 by making sure we provide the highest level of service for our customers,” he said. “Cargo handlers play a vital role in terms of safety and security.”
He added that it is wrong to assume that customers will just accept service levels they’re not happy with. “We have very good working relationships with our customers.”
While forwarders have lodged complaints about outsourced ground handlers paying less attention to the integrity of the air cargo on the tarmac, some handlers say the blame for delays can also be shared by the forwarders themselves, who often schedule pickups without warning. Sometime this results in trucks showing up at the same time for pickups and causing traffic jams.
WFS is now owned by Platinum Equity, but the focus on quality has never waned, Bijaoui said. “Our former owner, and now Platinum, recognize the importance of WFS continuing to build a strong business that works to the highest standards,” he added. “I think our new owners … are very supportive of our strategy.”
Since aviation services and ground handling firm dnata, a sister company of Emirates Airlines, is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, it doesn’t have the concern of answering to a private equity firm, said Bernd Leo Struck, dnata’s senior vice president for UAE cargo. The company – which serves both Dubai International and Dubai World Central and many other airports worldwide – prefers to adhere strictly to industry standards and certifications to demonstrate its quality.
At the end of 2015, for example, dnata’s Sydney station received certification for IATA’s Safety Audit for Ground Operations, the seventh station in its ground-handling operations to receive this certification. Dnata began the rigorous process of ISAGO certification in 2008, with an aim to have all of its stations ISAGO-registered eventually. Under the “dnata one safety” program, damaged containers or damaged equipment is no longer loaded onto any aircraft; all freight is now 100 percent X-rayed; and dangerous goods, pharmaceuticals and perishables are all handled in dedicated warehouses, where staff is trained for each type of cargo.
Struck said a larger firm like dnata can offer more than one service. In Dubai, for example, dnata offers “the whole value chain” to its customers, providing not only warehouse handling, but also the ground handling, GSA representation and IT infrastructure to do business electronically with freight forwarders. “Basically an airline could be fully active in the UAE without having a single ground staff [worker] employed,” Struck said. “Dnata will take care of everything.”
For airlines, dnata can offer worldwide contracting, which would be a service-level contract for many stations. By integrating its IT infrastructure into the airline’s system, dnata can provide real-time tracking of all freight movements at each station. “A multi-station pricing structure obviously helps the airline customer to control costs,” Struck explained. “With both aspects, the airline has full control over the product its sells to its customers, and individual airline requirements can be fulfilled on station or global level.”