Why forwarders have the algorithm & blues

22 / 05 / 2017

Internet start-ups using algorithms to offer airfreight bookings are seen as disruptors for traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ freight forwarders.

Air Cargo News decided to seek out a virtual forwarder, to see what it can offer.

We chose HangarA, launched in August 2016 after a year of background technology work. It specialises in perishable seafood airfreight within the US.

The website states: “HangarA’s Price Explorer is found within its robust search engine that powers shippers with a full comprehensive price breakdown of every shipping option on a per product code and service type for each applicable airline.”

We were given a virtual guided tour of the HangarA site by project manager Trevor Woodland, who assumed the role of a shipper called Lobster Shack, transporting ten crates of lobster totalling 200 kg from Boston on the US east coast to San Francisco on the west coast.

HangarA holds US domestic flight details for the five major carriers: United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines.

Shippers can select particular airlines for a shipment, for example if they have negotiated a special freight rate.

Says Woodland: “The rates that we show for each search are those published by the airlines. However, we can input contractual rates for our customers.”

Woodland says that HangarA’s ‘typical’ perishables shipper airfreights  between 5-10 shipments per day, using protective packaging that can last for 48 hours without being refrigerated, as stipulated by the airlines.

Based on the shipment dimensions and weights typed in by the shipper, the programme analyses the potential ULD options, excluding those airports or aircraft types which cannot accept the shipment.

Within seconds, up on the screen pop some direct flights, similar to that for passenger bookings offered by Kayak, Travelocity and Expedia.

Direct flights are always displayed first, with options to list a seafood product code and its freight rate. We choose Delta flight 2079, which goes through Detroit before flying on to San Francisco. Woodland explains that the programme also allows sufficient time for flight connections.

He says: “When you find a flight, you are able to see how the pricing is broken down. The system will show you the rates and any taxes or surcharges, plus where you need to drop off or pick up your shipments.”

Although an airport-to-airport service, users can input courier information and then email an IATA approved air waybill to the company which will make the final mile delivery.

Shippers can also create tailored dashboards, to review transport expenditure over a specified period, consignees, couriers, total consignment numbers and their weights, plus access an AWB archive.

HangarA is focused on US domestic perishables at present, but it has ambitions.

Says Woodland: “HangarA has within its system every possible contractual rate offered by the airline as well as every product code and product type within it. We are slowly working to bring on board more and more clients in different industries.

“At its core HangarA is a technology solution and its leadership is well versed in the air cargo and freight forwarding industry. The leadership team, helping guide HangarA has combined decades of experience.

“HangarA is a combination of their wealth of information on how air cargo works paired with this new age of technology savviness.”

Woodland continues: “Within the shipping industry there are major technological strides happening but air cargo is only now rolling out electronic booking at a very beta level.

“We have been able to book passenger tickets electronically for a long time and it is insane that they haven’t yet got the cargo area to do the same.”

Traditional freight forwarders pour scorn on the start-ups, asserting that they are asset-light and do not have the necessary experience and backroom capability to handle a complex supply chain, especially when things go wrong.

Answers Woodland: If your shipment requires special white glove services upon pickup or delivery, go use a freight forwarder that makes perfect sense.

“Freight forwarders have a great role, but there is also a massive market for A2B shipping and to have a courier pick the goods up at the other end.”

He adds: “We are not trying to deter from freight forwarders, but we just know that there is a much greater piece to air cargo shipping, for people who want to take care of it themselves.”