Lars Droog: TIACA’s shipper committee chairman says we need to talk

A lot is said in the air cargo industry about the importance of understanding shippers’ needs, but how closely have they actually been listened to?
Not closely enough, according to TIACA, which has set up a new Shippers’ Advisory Committee to “review all elements of the supply chain in order to make improvements with the interests of the shipper in mind”.
Chairing the committee is Lars Droog, manager − supply chain and general affairs Europe, Middle East and Africa for Tosoh, a Japanese chemical conglomerate. 
“I am deeply looking forward to having constructive discussions with other stakeholders,” he says. 
“The time has come to have these discussions.”
Droog is not exactly a stranger to air cargo and its ways. He started his career as a freight forwarder with Circle Freight International and Concord Sea-Air, which he says more or less invented the Asia-Dubai-Europe sea-air concept.
Then he moved on to Polar Air in what were arguably its glory days, operating classic Boeing 747 freighters under Ned Wallace and Mark West. Talking about the experience of flying as a passenger these days, he says: “I prefer flying on freighters.”
Since he joined Tosoh in January 2008, airfreight has continued to play an important role, but inevitably for a company that deals in a range of chemicals a lot of its shipments go by sea or truck. 
Comparison with those modes has made Droog realise just how frustrating airfreight can be for the shipper.
“In many ways it is still a very traditional business,” he says. “I was at Polar when the first B747-400s arrived, but while the aircraft have changed, the way of working has not. Other modes − ocean, the integrators, truckers − have changed, but air cargo is still doing things the way it always has done.”
His first move to do something about that came when he was invited by EVO, the Dutch shippers’ association, to head their express and airfreight committee. 
Then came the invitation from TIACA. 
“I see it as a perfect opportunity to have discussions with all the stakeholders in air cargo − not just forwarders and airlines but ground handlers and truckers as well,” Droog says. “Up to now TIACA has represented all these stakeholders apart from shippers.”
In particular, after dealing directly with ocean lines and trucking companies, he finds it strange that he is not allowed to communicate directly with airlines.
“If I send emails to airlines, their first reply is to ask who is my agent? Airlines see forwarders as their customers, not shippers, and a lot of shippers feel excluded from the air cargo supply chain.”
This seems illogical to a company like Tosoh, whose products are often subject to dangerous goods regulations and so have special transport requirements. “With ocean freight we can talk to them directly and make our own decision about which lines we want to work with. 
“The same is true of trucking and barges,” says Droog.
“With airlines we are not allowed to choose. We can of course put pressure on our forwarders or blacklist some airlines, but it is very difficult to influence the decision. 
“There may be a lot of shippers who are content to deal via forwarders in this way but some want to deal direct with operators. 
“Being a Japanese company, we would like to have long-term relationships with our suppliers but that is currently not possible with airlines.”
This is, of course, sensitive territory for the air cargo industry, where forwarders fear that their role would be diminished if shippers can deal directly with the carriers. But Droog reassures them. 
“Of course, it is human to be afraid of change, but there is a role for every party in the supply chain. 
“Forwarders will always play a key role, but we need to work together rather than being fragmented.” 
One example where this could be beneficial is in data flow. 
Airlines often complain that it is hard to do load planning because the shipment that turns up at the airport is a different size or weight from the one that is booked.
But Droog says shippers always have this information: “I don’t know one that does not know exactly how big and how heavy their product is. They have records of this in their warehouse management systems.” Such data may not be available six months in advance, he says, but it is always available at least a week before the flight.
He also insists that it is usually provided to the forwarders but somehow it gets lost in transit and never reaches the airline. “Maybe it is too complex for the forwarder to keep track of it when he is consolidating. “But if we could provide the data directly to the airline, they could optimise their load planning.”
In return, Droog would like better data from the airlines − not just track and trace but communications about products or service levels. He contrasts his experience as an airline passenger, spending thousands of euros a year, with his role as a buyer of airfreight spending several millions.
“As a passenger I receive all sorts of emails and communications via social media. As a freight buyer I never receive a single email or phone call from airlines. 
“The airlines do not promote themselves to the shipper.”
Another topic he would like to raise concerns direct delivery from the airport to the shipper’s premises. He points out that on an ocean bill of lading there is a box for place of delivery as well as port of destination, and that Tosoh’s own premises will be named as the former.
By contrast, airfreight shipments not infrequently go from the handler to the forwarder, who then delivers to the shipper. Why, Droog asks, could the delivery not be made direct from airport to the shipper? 
“It would be a minor change but it would improve the industry and make it more competitive. “In areas such as pharmaceuticals, which are time-sensitive and subject to GDP requirements, it could make all the difference.”
Indeed, eliminating any stage in the air cargo chain would be good as far as Droog is concerned. “Every time the shipment is handled, there is an increased risk. In ocean freight the container comes to our premises, we load it ourselves and close the door, and the next time it is opened is when it arrives at its destination.
“If you look at damage in ocean freight, it is zero. In airfreight there is a lot of damage. Maybe it is only damage to the packaging rather than the product, but that matters. If you go into the store to buy a laptop and you see it is in a damaged box, you ask for another one in an undamaged box.”
How far these problems can be resolved through better practice, or how far they are inherent in the way airfreight operates, remains to be seen. But Droog is looking forward to having discussions and hearing the views of all parties.
He is keen to get input from other industry sectors, other parts of the world and all parties in the supply chain. “The most important thing is to have discussions about these topics, to involve shippers in the debate.
“The future has to be in collaboration. I believe we can work together to change things in a way that will be beneficial to all parties. As a shipper we can’t do that alone, but together I think we can make a difference and make air cargo more competitive.”

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