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Air cargo seems to have become the newfound investment allure for Indian 3PLs looking to diversify beyond their long-time mainstay trucking verticals.

That evolving trend comes as freighter capacity out of India is expanding at a rapid pace.  The latest air network addition comes from container line-airline CMA CGM Air Cargo, which has started four services a week on an A330F between Mumbai and Paris.

Meanwhile, Delhi-based traditional road transporter Continental Carriers has boosted its industry profile with an “RA-3 accredited” green-field Air Freight Station (AFS) at Kapashera, on the outskirts of Delhi Airport, which it claimed is a first in that off-site category in the country.  RA-3, or regulated agent third country validation has been a prerequisite for air cargo shipped into the EU since 2014, following heightened risk perceptions.

“Establishing an AFS is expected to boost competition among cargo terminal operators, particularly in tier II and III cities, by tapping into untapped markets,” group MD Vaibhav Vohra told The Loadstar.

Mr Vohra said the project, which he called the new-age management of supply chains, ties in with the updated national logistics policy (NLP), recently unveiled by the union government as part of a broader roadmap for the logistics sector, to tighten shipping costs and improve ease-of-doing-business experiences.

Equipped with advanced tech capabilities that enable brisk gate-in/out operations, the AFS offers a wide range of services, including palletisation and storage, customs clearance, carting order management and ULD [unit load device] handling, in addition to other value-added, bespoke offerings.

“The AFS will provide clients with effective groupage air freight services at competitive rates and with flexible pricing options, particularly for high-density or high-volume shipments bound for selected destination(s) with pre-booked capacity through our airline partners,” Mr Vohra noted.

Mr Vohra also claimed the AFS model — designed as a common-user bonded export facility — helps alleviate congestion problems at the airport even during peak hours amid rising traffic trends.

Founded in 1957, Delhi-headquartered Continental has a countrywide network for its integrated logistics activity.

Mumbai-based Patel Integrated Logistics (PILL) is another player that has set its sights on air cargo logistics expansion.

Formerly Patel Roadways, the group spearheads its freight forwarding services under Patel Airfreight (PAF), which is said to hold assured space arrangements with most of the airlines, including parcel service leaders, operating out of India.

Group chairman Asgar Shakoor Patel told The Loadstar that the specialised air freight wing has presence across about 90 airports in India.

“While the company’s robust surface transportation network assures seamless and reliable flow of commodities across the nation, its extensive network allows it to deliver high-density freight by air effectively,” Mr Patel said.

He said the group has cargo consolidation service contracts for various manufacturers, e-commerce majors, auto parts suppliers and traders in other cargo segments, including perishables and electronics.

Mr Patel also hinted at fresh investment plans to expand market reach as airport networks in India grow, targeted at 220 by 2025, up from 148 airports at present.

“We want to be present at every airport where a cargo terminal operates.”

According to Nitin Master, vice president (3PL business) at Mumbai-based Kale Logistics Solutions, the 3PL industry in India is on the cusp of rapid transformation, aided by tech solutions for real-time visibility, infrastructure development and government policy reforms.

“Initiatives like e-way bills, e-invoicing, fast-tags, GPS tracking and port community systems have been very encouraging for 3PL players to extend their services to air freight, as they are able to provide end-to-end freight management,” Mr Master told The Loadstar.

Citing a report by UK-based research firm Technavio, Mr Master said the Indian 3PL market size is poised to reach some $11bn by 2025.

“This forward and backward integration is a trend that is set to gain further momentum in the days ahead,” he added.

You can contact the writer at [email protected].

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