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In the final article of his two-part series, Stan Wraight asks how the airfreight industry can work towards the 48-hour cut in transit times, an initiative launched by IATA in March.

So can IATA make this happen, or can it at least push in the right direction? Do IATA members really take its initiatives and wishes into account when cargo is internally discussed, strategies set, product portfolios created, budgets for processes get approved, investments calculated?

Take a bird’s eye view of that 6.5-day process IATA would like to change, and look carefully at the middle part. That still consists of a six, eight or even 12-hour air journey from some point in the origin process to some point at destination. That air journey is today bookended by enormous investments in infrastructure which is purpose-designed to handle air cargo that moves like molasses in January.

How important is that phrase “dwell time” to designers and consultants? It is really important, because the carriers or independent companies operating that middle part of the 6.5-day process are reluctant owners of an outdated transport module that costs hundreds of millions of dollars or euros or renminbi on some expensive airport property to build or lease.

To think that we need buildings and equipment of this magnitude for “dwell time”, to stop and go million ton-plus flows of air cargo each month, all because the airport is some sort of barrier in the end-to-end flow is ridiculous. This is not only ludicrous but adds a financial burden on air cargo no one should accept nor even attempt to justify. This is where the time can be saved.

Imagine a Boeing 777 passenger flight between two countries. It leaves with half its belly capacity carrying passenger baggage and the other half carrying cargo. Within an hour or so of its arrival, the passenger bags have been processed, first by the airline, then the airport, then the regulatory agencies and lastly by the passenger, or on to another flight.

Meanwhile, with luck, the freight will have left the ramp, been accepted into an imperfect assembly line process, ready to disappear for whatever the engineers say is the ‘minimum dwell time’. And of course all the while, data systems are busily trying to communicate with each other to determine where the actual paperwork is, without which no one can do anything.

So is it a legitimate question or not? If airlines and airports can figure out a way to process millions of passenger bags, including regulatory functions, in an hour or so, why can’t we handle air cargo (which consists primarily of boxes and crates of roughly the same cube as baggage) with some of the same efficiencies? What will it take?

First shippers and logistics companies should be accountable for the end-to-end physical and information process, including the burden of paper; second, carriers – IATA’s domain – need to focus on how to limit pre-flight, in-transit and post-flight ‘dwell’ to exactly what they need to perform the air transport piece. Anything beyond that ought to be someone else’s responsibility, or at the very least, a big revenue producer to underwrite those huge infrastructure investments needed to do the job with maximum efficiency and speed. How can you develop a proper product portfolio without this?

Lastly, regulatory facilitation. If a passenger, or in most cases an express or courier company, can move his or her bag or consignment through those same processes with speed and precision, surely the incredibly valuable content of scheduled air cargo can get be treated with almost the same respect as dirty underwear (or clean if it’s the beginning of a trip), or that of an integrator willing and able to pay for IT systems and preferred customs facilitation in his facility.

The system can be changed. The industry just needs collective willpower to do so. And then air cargo will be able to offer shippers the premium fast-track service that air transport uniquely can provide.

Part One of the series is here.

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  • Naresh

    June 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    A very interesting article. However, while the premise that air cargo dwell time should be and can be reduced is very much true and while there is merit in the argument that what works for passengers should work for cargo, in reality, it is a bit more complex.
    For one, on the passenger side, no airline books a transit passenger with a connecting time of upto 4 days, which is the free period some airports provide. No arrival passenger sits and waits at the airport of destination for upto 7 days before he decides to go home. No passenger will accept being bumped off fro flight to flight just because some other higher yielding fellow traveller was placed on priority by the airline.
    Unfortunately, archaic rules and the anxiety of airlines to fill up the ever increasing capacity also play a part in the long dwell times.

  • Michael Kusuplos

    June 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Where is the 1st part?

  • Dave Ambridge

    June 16, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Again Stan makes some very good points. We have freight ready to collect within 2 hours of a passenger flight arriving but the AVERAGE dwell time in our building is 2.5 days. Why is that? Agents blame Customs and Customs say it’s not them. If we had global E-AWB and global Advanced Customs Clearance, obviously based on risk assessment, we could remove 48 hours very easily. We don’t want to invest and build huge Cargo Terminals just because of Import Storage. We’d rather build smaller, more efficient TRANSIT SHEDS, as we used to call them and save money.

    Why do Agents expect to deliver Cargo for Export 2 days ahead of the flight? To save 1 cent a kilo on the rate? Again it makes no sense really.

    If we actually knew what the CUSTOMER wanted, as FX, DHL, UPS, TNT does then we could offer the different service levels based on Customer desire and needs. It’s only then that we can really make the changes we so badly need to stop Modal shift, and yes that includes to the Integrators who all carry huge volumes of Cargo that long ago they never did.

    Food for thought I hope?

  • Peter Walter

    June 19, 2014 at 5:23 am

    I fully agree with Stan but lets not forget that this suitcase is accompanied by an on board courier (i.e. the passenger). Which is about the most expensive form of cargo transport you can get.
    The integrators continue to have the upper hand as they at least control all the processes from end to end. For mixed carriers – where numerous parties get involved it’s far more complex. I doubt the e-awb will make a huge difference. Particularly as long as forwarders at both ends continue to use airline ground handling agent’s warehouses as free storage sheds.

  • Enno Osinga

    July 10, 2014 at 9:38 am

    First of all it should be noted that it is not a problem to get Cargo delivered as fast as baggage. If you look for example at the dedicated Flower facilities at Schiphol this happens all the time. Secondly those forwarders that have invested in air side facilities at Schiphol find that they have Cargo available in their warehouse within 2 hours of arrival. Our current analysis shows some influencing factors. The Airlines have an SLA with the handling companies to have Cargo available within 9 hours. Based on that there is no need to speed it up. They can get quicker availability but at a price, but then there needs to be demand for that product. Also we find that a significant part of the Cargo that arrives at the weekend is not collected until Monday morning because the consignees do not want it earlier. Once again in a very recent round table with all the partners of the Air Cargo Chain we discussed further improvement of the Airport process. Yes it can and must be done but the need for speed is a selective need only and certainly not the only priority.

  • Peter Walter

    July 10, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    These are all excellent points that Enno has made.
    Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the true average dwell times and just how much they can or should be reduced. We have to remember that while carriers, handling agents and forwarders operate on a 24×7 basis – not everyone in the supply chain does.