Air cargo handlers face staff shortages on both sides of the Atlantic
Fluctuating volumes, pandemic-induced government support schemes and staff shortage woes have left ground handlers facing ...
Forwarders have expressed anger at the latest round of air terminal handling charge increases, calling them “monstrous”.
WFS is the latest to unveil new charges for January, which, at Heathrow, include a £22.50 ($30.35) Covid charge, with import fees for loose cargo set at £0.20 per kg.
Dnata, which, like Swissport, publishes charges in April and October, is currently charging £0.18/kg, while Swissport is at £0.19.
“This is a real joke,” said one forwarder. “They [the charges] are phenomenal, and some of the highest handling rates for air cargo globally – it’s about £2,500 for a 10-tonne shipment.
“The WFS charges are monstrous. They are halving staff, elongating cargo availability and readiness and then charging substantially more for it, and that’s without the Covid fee.
“We are paying Rolls-Royce Phantom prices for an Austin Allegro.”
He added: “The problem is that we are a captive audience, we have to use the handlers the airlines use, and we just have to pay.”
While one forwarder said he didn’t expect to see any additional investment from handlers despite the charges, WFS claimed it was investing.
In a statement to The Loadstar, WFS said: “Our terminal handling charges are reviewed annually and communicated to our customers. They are implemented at country level and reflect particular cost structures in each country, reflecting rising labour and operating costs, capital investments, technology improvements, rent increases and other developments implemented across our business which also help to deliver productivity gains and other benefits for our customers.
“For example, these include our investments in dedicated pharma facilities across our network and the deployment of new technologies, such as our upgraded and improved operating system to reduce truck waiting times for collections and deliveries through the use of slot bookings/dock times and kiosks to speed up vehicle processing at WFS facilities.
“We are also investing in new Bluetooth readers to provide enhanced end-to-end real-time location and status tracking of cargo, parcel and mail shipments.”
Menzies, meanwhile, said it had no immediate plans to increase its tariff, and has already withdrawn its Covid fee. But it said handlers needed to charge enough to ensure a sustainable business.
Head of cargo Robert Fordree said: “The combination of complexity, uncertainty and continual adjustments to airline schedules (and therefore cargo uplift) leads to increased costs for handlers, particularly with planning manpower.
“We plan for the right amount of people at scheduled times and when this changes at short notice, it leads to an increase in labour costs. Depending on the severity of this, for some handlers it may necessitate increases in terminal fees to counter this.”
Forwarders were however unsympathetic and, while acknowledging that the passenger market was in difficulty, one said the cargo business was different.
“The market picked up quickly. I am not sure they struggled that much. They furloughed staff, and cut back – but the freight was still coming in. It’ll be interesting to see their financials, but I bet they were strong.”
He added: “You could argue that it’s been easier for them – they don’t have to deal with lots of different passenger aircraft for the cargo, it’s mostly coming in on one aircraft. It’s much simpler.”
But WFS claimed its costs had gone up as a result of the pandemic: “In addition to our ongoing commitment to the highest standards of safety and security, 2020 saw particular and unexpected operating cost increases due to the challenges of maintaining operations in the Covid environment, including the cost of providing the full range of protective equipment for all staff.
“Of course, we recognise that any increases in costs are never welcomed by customers but, like every company, we have to manage our growing cost base correctly to ensure we can continue to meet our customers’ needs and be able to make investments which will benefit us all.”