Outspoken shipper stalwart van Doesburg says farewell

Outspoken air cargo shipper representative Joost van Doesburg is leaving the sector but has a last message for airlines and forwarders.
Van Doesburg, airfreight policy manager at the European Shippers’ Council (ESC), said: “We should not invest a lot of time in optimising the current situation, like e-freight, because it is optimising the paper chaos that we already have.”
Van Doesburg, who acknowledges a sometimes thorny relationship with freight forwarders and airlines, is joining the Dutch pilots union as public affairs manager.
The decision was partly a career move and partly influenced by the prospect of becoming a father in the next few months.
“The decision to leave was painful.  Air cargo is a great but imperfect industry, with a lot of things that can be improved. The last seven years were simply great and inspiring. I was the only one who dared to say what a lot of other people were thinking.”
His challenging comments from the podium of air cargo industry events won him many friends and a few enemies.
“Whenever I went, I had two sorts of encounters. One would be ‘we support you, go ahead, you are right and this gives us a vision that we want to share, this is the future’.
“I also encountered many, many people in the industry who felt offended by what I had said, and some of them were even aggressive towards me. But I did everything for a good cause.”
Supply chain data and optimisation has been a recurrent theme in the air cargo debate led by shippers.
Said van Doesburg: “We are optimising the air cargo supply chain and in the last five years this process has really improved some parts of the industry, while innovation has also gained speed.
“However, I think that optimising the current supply chain, and the way that we are working with each other, that is not the future.
“We should not invest a lot of time in optimising the current situation, like e-freight, it is optimising the paper chaos that we already have.”
Van Doesburg believes that one or two key organisations in air cargo should take leadership of this issue and “start from scratch with a new supply chain,” adding: “And not one that is taken hostage by the current situation”.
He elaborated his view that air cargo faces a “structural crisis”: shippers unhappy with airfreight services and ever lower airfreight rates.
“Whenever we talk with airlines, they will agree with the shippers what the problems are and what they need to do to solve them.
“But in the end, there is no real relationship between an airline and a shipper, and if there is a relationship then it is one based on price, instead of on requirements.”
Van Doesburg added: “I would not blame the freight forwarder, but they are always the middleman, and the middleman has its own special interests. It is not serving the interests of the airline and is not serving the interests of the shipper, completely.
“The forwarder is playing a vital link but is also a wall between cooperation in the air cargo supply chain.”
And while some industry verticals, such as pharmaceuticals, are seeing the development of bespoke offers, van Doesburg observes that they are not consignor to consignee but have “stops at almost every crucial place in the supply chain”.
He wants to see a future where airlines work in closer partnership with a number of larger freight forwarders, acting almost as integrators.
“At the moment, an airline is open to all freight forwarders, without making a selection, but I really believe that airlines and freight forwarders should start to choose each other.
“Maybe the future is that the Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam groupings should become new cargo airlines.
“So, you do not buy cargo capacity at KLM, for example, but you buy cargo capacity at SkyTeam which has developed services for different verticals together with a group of selected freight forwarders.”
This, argues van Doesburg, will create a market where a freight forwarder does not have to call many different airlines in order to secure the lowest quote of the day.
“Right now, air cargo is still a day trading market, and this is causing a race to the bottom for rates. The shorter the time that you make a booking before departure, the cheaper the rate you get.”
Van Doesburg argues one way of avoiding the rates spot market is for airlines and forwarders to reward shippers who book in advance, while the shipper should stick to its promised volumes.
While admitting that shippers “are not without any sin,” van Doesburg said that the shipping department in some corporations has become a “purchasing organisation”.
He continued: “We, the shipper, have changed because we are facing the air cargo industry only as a sales organisation, but we should change the focus from price to cost.
“Shippers should also approach their trade lanes from a supply chain vision, and make sure that they focus on quality and not only the freight rate.”
Van Doesburg – who leaves at the end of October ─ says that his successor has yet to be appointed.
Asked whether that person should continue the van Doesburg style of megaphone diplomacy, he said: “I speak every day with at least two or three shippers, but they need a structure and they need a spokesman. They need somebody who releases their ideas and visions.
“But we are in the underdog position, as a shipper. My advice always is to stay very close to yourself and what you want to be. But this is an industry that does not listen if you approach them in the silent, diplomatic way.”

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