For airlines, the only real place they can improve performance is on the ground, according to Mark Olney, General Manager Cargo, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, Air Canada Cargo.
“In the air we are pretty much the same as everyone else, so the key is what we do on the ground,” he told delegates at an air freight workshop at Multimodal 2017. “That is why we have invested heavily in our own handling facilities in the UK and Frankfurt. We have also signed up our ground handlers to achieve the same standards and I believe we are at industry leading levels.”
Nick Platts, Head of Cargo, Heathrow Airport, explained that Heathrow is neither a landlord or a handler like some European airports, but agreed that the industry needs to improve performance to compete with other modes.
“The ground component is where we let ourselves down. We need to engage more fully with the airline sheds and look at how quickly and efficiently cargo moves through them. The growth of e-commerce gives us a great opportunity and we need to take advantage of that.”
Jonas van Stekelenburg, Head of Cargo, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, said one of the difficulties was not being able to measure, and therefore really prove, improvements in performance, describing it as “something we are trying to fix”.
He said he saw carriers, forwarders, and handlers all as his customers, saying: “It is in our DNA to have a collaborative approach. The difficulty we have is with those you don’t have direct contact with such as shippers and Customs.”
He added that collaboration had really paid off in pharma where quality is highly valued.
“Shippers can be all about cost, so the handlers only hear about cost. But we need to ensure that customers value quality properly.”
Conan Busby, Head for Cargo for MAG, said going together with a handler to visit customers had helped build up the perishables trade for the company, which owns Manchester, East Midlands, and Stansted airports.
He suggested it would be better to use regional airports to help reduce both cross-Channel and intra-UK trucking, especially as there was such of lot of warehousing space in the East Midlands.
Olney pointed out that flights to the regions were sometimes seasonal so it was would be hard to establish quality processes for just three or four months of the year.
Platts said the large hub airports usually had several services a day to any destination so there was much more flexibility and opportunity to fly cargo if it was delayed or unable to be loaded because of excess passenger baggage.
All the panellists agreed that closer communications with shippers and forwarders would help the air cargo industry plan better for the peak periods, as the higher than expected volumes at the end of 2016 had taken everyone by surprise.
Multimodal, which brings together trade industries, is a free to attend, three-day event currently taking place at the Birmingham NEC, UK.