IT WOULD be fair to say that a combination of economic instability, extortionate fuel prices, which have only recently seen to decrease, coupled with a decline in demand, have left many people working in the air cargo industry feeling battered and bruised.
Clive Chalmers, manager of the freight division of charter specialist Air Partner (AP), is not among them. In fact, he has something to smile about.
At a time when many businesses have switched into survival mode in order to stay afloat, the airfreight specialist decided to launch a new ‘bespoke’ door-to-door service in May of last year – an unusual step for a charter broker.
The new venture, Time Critical (TC), targets those ad-hoc customers who want to get their shipments from ‘A’ to ‘B’ quickly but do not necessarily want to be directly involved in the nitty-gritty of the planning and logistics involved in ensuring the cargo arrives intact and on time at its final destination.
“We [began] to receive quite a lot of interest and requests from clients asking us to take care of full door-to-door shipment transportation,” reveals Chalmers.
“It was not something that we really advertised, but it was something that we did.
“We would get involved in the traucking, the customer’s documentation etc. But the demand from our clients was increasing – a lot of our for-warding clients wanted the problem taken off their hands,” he continues.
AP then began to investigate the feasibility of introducing such a service. But it was the appointment of Rob Moore as sales director of Air Partner Time Critical Projects which helped get the new business off the ground.
Moore brought with him a strong background in the logistics market, along with extensive expertise in freight forwarding and Information Technology (IT).
“It was an opportunity that presented itself when we took on Rob who has the experience of working in this field previously,” explains Chalmers.
“We thought, well, this is the way the market is going so we decided to put into place a system, which nobody else (charter brokers) really had [at the time] and try to lead the way,” Chalmers expresses confidently.
AP’s calculated risk paid off with Time Critical paying dividends, attracting major players, such as Virgin and British Airways.
But the air charter broker also had an ace up its sleeve: Red-Track software.
The next generation technology not only allows customers to monitor their cargo anywhere and at any time with a mobile, smart phone, laptop or tablet device but it also gives them a paper-free way of chartering an aircraft.
Chalmers admits: “It is always a risk whenever you bring a new product onto the market. We are an ambitious company, we want to be the best at what we do and it’s about taking a calculated risk.
“We listened to our clients. That was the main driving [force]. We don’t want to stay static, we want to keep on moving forward, progressing what we do and what we offer them.”
But paper-free services are yet to be embraced by everyone in the air cargo industry as Air Cargo News revealed last month. Could this be a disadvantage?
Not so, says Chalmers.
“If the customer wants to contract in the traditional way that is not a problem. Nobody is forced to use the new system if they don’t want to.
“If some people are not interested in going down that route that’s fine.
“They can still have the traditional service of telephone, fax and e-mail. That is part of the services we offer. It is standard – we react to what the client wants.”
Air Partner’s international reputation has been built up over 50 years. Its three main divisions comprise Air Partner Private Jet Broking, Air Partner Commercial Jet Broking, along with the freight division.
The company operates 20 offices across 17 countries and also boasts the coveted British regal seal of approval in the form of a Royal Warrant.
Meanwhile, some within the industry would argue that lowering one’s sights during a prolonged period of economic uncertainty is a realistic and practical app-roach to take.
Chalmers disagrees: believing that ambition is the lifeblood of any successful business. In this context, he states: “Whether you are in economic tough times or not, you still have to be quite ambitious and you still have to keep developing your product to stay one step ahead.
“Obviously, it’s difficult at the moment for everybody in freight.
“You only have to look at the latest IATA statistics to see how much this side of the business is struggling.”
The company is currently investigating ‘calculated expansions’ with-in Africa and South America.
In June this year it made inroads into the Indian economy by forming a ‘strategic partnership’ with India-based company Inter-Globe, which sells lifestyle products, such as luxury yachts and mini submarines, with a view to launching a range of aviation products.
AP’s strategy is under constant review, according to Chalmers. “We have to get the right people and make sure there is a market for us.”
He also reveals his division, which has cargo specialists in the USA, Dubai, Germany, France, Turkey, Hong Kong and Japan, has achieved its targets and “maintained its freight performance” despite the volatility that appears to have a continuous stranglehold on the market.
Always thinking ahead, he is unequivocal about what his sector of the air cargo industry needs in order to raise and maintain its standards: regulation. As far as he is concerned it makes good business sense.
“At the moment, there is no real regulation,” he exclusively reveals to Air Cargo News.
“[Charter brokering] has got a low barrier to entry.
“There is a need for a broker in the market place but that broker must add value and act in the best interests of the client. Clients should be represented in the correct way.”
He emphasises: “There are a couple of notable industry organisations which are very good.
“But in terms of measuring performance and making sure you are looking after the customers’ needs, regulation is the one thing I would like to see added to the cargo brokerage industry.”
Chalmers’ tip for success, even when times are bleak, is a basic rule of thumb in any business: listen to customers.
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