27 / 02 / 2015
A YEAR AGO this month, senior air cargo executives drawn from leading companies operating across the supply chain met in Lisbon, Portugal, to discuss the urgent issues facing cool chain transportation.
The picture painted by analysts Seabury was bleak, revealing the industry was in danger of losing more potential air cargo from this sector to “reliable ocean” unless it could offer more qualitative, as well as quantitative services in the near future, writes Thelma Etim, deputy editor.
“First of all, there was a big modal shift from air to sea in perishables – especially in pharmaceuticals and a lot of shippers revealed that this was not only due to the price but was also down the lack of quality and reliability in airfreight services,” states Sebastiaan Scholte, chairman of the Cool Chain Association.
Although he points out one disadvantage with using sea containers for moving products of this type – the size of the risk grows with the size of the container.
“If you ship a lot of pharmaceuticals by sea, it means that if something goes wrong, it goes wrong with a very, very big shipment in contrast with airfreight, where the consignments are smaller and spread out."
It also became apparent at last year’s event that fragmentation, poor communications and a lack of transparency in the supply chain, coupled with a lack of joined-up thinking – unlike the integrators – has created some weak links, mainly on the tarmac.
Shippers did not pull any punches when it came to revealing what they are not getting from the industry and what they expect from it. “The shippers are paying the bill and they determine what the quality of the service should be,” remarks Scholte. “We heard from shippers that there is a lack of transparency and there is a critical need for standardisation.”
The litany of global problems debated also include low or non-existent standards and procedures; poor skills and training; poor handling facilities (packing, loading and offloading at warehouses); along with bottlenecks at import/export customs clearance areas.
Amid all of these challenges come a plethora of regulations safeguarding the efficacy of pharmaceutical products, which are not only increasing in number but also in complexity. In the space of just 12 months, flying pharma around the world has moved to centre stage as a growing vertical with airlines and airports investing millions of dollars in launching stylish, speedy products and services to lure new customers.
LuxairCARGO, Lufthansa Cargo, Saudia Cargo, Qatar Airways Cargo, Emirates SkyCargo, Cathay Pacific Cargo, Cargolux, AirBridge Cargo, IAG Cargo, Schiphol, Dubai World Central and Hamad International Airport are just a few to have increased their focus on this market.
In the intervening 12 months, has the industry improved in this regard? Scholte believes that overall it has.
“This year has been exceptional because we have made a little more progress, if we look at what we took away from last September’s event,” he views. “For example, a number of handling agents and airports have become GDP (Goods Distribution Practice) certified. This is huge progress, because GDP status is the quality benchmark for such processes.”
Scholte is particularly pleased with developments at Brussels Airport. The European hub has teamed up with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to launch a GDP-style certification initiative, which will assess the BRUcargo airfreight community.
“It is exactly what the industry needs, because if this is rolled out successfully, it will force standardisation,” predicts Scholte. He goes further, saying the initiative could evolve into the “common standardisation for the air cargo industry regulated and monitored by IATA”.
An independent body auditing, controlling and determining standards in the cool chain is vital, he adds. “I do hope it will not become cost prohibitive though, because for it to be successful with all the supply chain players jumping on board, you need critical mass.”
Air Cargo News is holding a Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals Air Cargo Conference, which will take place between 14-16 December 2014, at the Lancaster London Hotel.
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