Conference speakers point the finger at hold-ups on the ground

06 / 04 / 2017

  • Multimodal conference

During one of the conferences at the ongoing Multimodal 2017 event, being held in Birmingham in the UK this week, a number of speakers have questioned the efficacy of the air cargo supply chain during those times when a shipment is on the ground.

For example, Mark Olney, general manager – cargo, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa for Air Canada Cargo, declared: “In the air we are pretty much the same as everyone else, so the key is what we do on the ground.”

Addressing delegates at an airfreight workshop during Multimodal, he explained: “That is why we have invested heavily in our own handling facilities in the UK and Frankfurt.

“We have also signed up our ground handlers to achieve the same standards and I believe we are at industry-leading levels.”

Nick Platts, head of cargo for Heathrow Airport Limited, operator of the UK’s biggest and busiest air gateway, is of the belief that the industry needs to improve its performance to compete with other modes and, in particular: “The ground component is where we let ourselves down.

“We need to engage more fully with the airline sheds and look at how quickly and efficiently cargo moves through them.

“The growth of e-commerce gives us a great opportunity and we need to take advantage of that,” Platts argued.

Jonas van Stekelenburg, head of cargo at one of Heathrow’s rivals, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, considers that one particular difficulty is not being able to measure, and therefore demonstrably prove, that any improvements in performance have been made.

“So it is something we are trying to fix,” Stekelenburg told the audience.

He said that he regards carriers, forwarders, and handlers as all equally customers of the airport. Moreover, “It is in our DNA to have a collaborative approach.”

However: “The difficulty we have is with those you don’t have direct contact with such [links in the supply chain] as shippers and customs.”

“Shippers can be all about cost, so the handlers only hear about cost. But we need to ensure that customers value quality properly,” Stekelenburg continued.

Conan Busby, head for cargo for Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns and operates the four UK gateways of Manchester, East Midlands, Bournemouth and London Stansted, said that accompanying a handler on a visit to meet customers had helped build up the perishables trade for his company.

All the panellists at this particular conference agreed that closer communications with shippers and forwarders would be of particular help in enabling the air cargo industry to plan better for peak periods, such as that seen somewhat unexpectedly at the end of last year.