Newark Photo 84443381 © Eq Roy
© Eq Roy

Two US industry bodies representing mostly forwarders involved in air cargo want government to give financial support to developments to ensure a smoother flow of traffic through airports.

They say the challenges for the industry are too enormous to be shouldered squarely by private enterprise and they have produced a white paper based on broad surveys and submitted it to Congress.

The worst of the congestion that has plagued cargo flows through US gateways has cleared, but the problem has not disappeared, said Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association (AfA).

At its worst, companies waited up to 17 hours to collect cargo from airport facilities; today, “we’re still seeing waiting times of two to three hours at major gateways”, he said.

The AfA and National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America have conducted a broad study of the critical issues impacting air cargo flows. This involved surveys of airports and the other stakeholders, gathering input from over 3,000 respondents, and showed that private industry does not have the muscle to tackle the issues alone.

According to an estimate from the Airports Council International – North America, US airports face at least $40bn in losses as a result of the pandemic. Inflation-adjusted, infrastructure requirement through to 2026 amounts to $115bn. Meanwhile, the airlines have piled up losses of over $200bn due to the pandemic – close to nine years of the industry’s earnings, according to IATA.

Investment will be directed primarily at the passenger business and safety and security issues, the paper notes, and the private sector cannot fully absorb the financial burden and needs aid from government to meet the requirements of air cargo.

A central proposal of the paper is the call for the creation of an Air Cargo Support Fund or facility and infrastructure development and modernisation.

The survey and study cover five focus areas: technology and automation; facilities and infrastructure; staffing; levels of service; and policy and regulation. While staffing emerged as the single most pressing concern, followed by communication and facilities/infrastructure, the authors note that there is no single issue that will provide a solution to the problems facing the industry.

The rise of e-commerce and ensuing surge in freighter activity has aggravated systemic problems with airport infrastructure – from insufficient freighter parking space and outdated and inadequate cargo buildings, to space constraints at many major airports.

Besides giving support for facility development, the authorities can assist the industry by facilitating the use of off-airport infrastructure, the authors point out. Governments also have a vital role to play in ensuring efficient road access to cargo areas, they add.

Moreover, consistent interpretation and enforcement of rules by customs and the Transportation Security Agency would enable stakeholders to have consistent processes across their systems and allow them to develop more effective training modules, the study notes.

It describes communication between the different elements of the air cargo operation as poor and inconsistent, adding that the application of technology is also inconsistent.

The authors suggest the development of a universal digital electronic application that can function as a technology overlay for an airport in which all stakeholders can participate. And it should be sufficiently generic to be adapted for virtually every airport and flexible enough to accommodate specific requirements.

Failure to act will result in further delays, escalating costs for modernisation and loss of traffic to other airports, the authors stress.

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