Air Transport World

Air freight 'system' still beyond reach. (world-wide system)

Air freight "system' still beyond reach

There is no worldwide air freight "system.' Maybe if the people in air freight create such a system, they will actually move more than 1% of world trade tonnage, a figure used so long it has become an industry cliche.

Traditionally, air freight was one category in an air cargo industry that also included express and mail transportation. The easy definition of air freight was that it weighed more than other shipments. In practice, it also was defined by its sometimes unsatisfactory service.

But the lines separating one category from another have blurred since air cargo regulation started loosening. It follows that the service distinctions also would blur.

It is express service that has caused this blurring. Express shipments have grown principally because they move under the very "system' heretofore unavailable from traditional air freight specialists. That growth has given the specialists pause.

In fact, over the past 13 years, the door-to-door package/document business has become an industry itself. How? By providing one-stop shopping for domestic and multinational shippers and distributors. By investing in electronic tracing and communications systems that vastly ease shipper worries. By keeping pickup and delivery promises often backed by guarantees.

Lesson dawns slowly

Starting with small packages filled with emergency, high-value, high-technology goods, moving to documents, increasing the size of packages, and now offering an array of sophisticated support services, the express companies have made a good start on replacing the traditional carriers of air freight. That lesson is slowly dawning on long-time air freight people. Whether they will apply the lesson, or even want to, is another matter.

According to figures supplied by KLM President Sergio Orlandini at a recent meeting, in 1980 the traditional airport-to-airport air freight business accounted for 90% of total traffic. In four years, he predicted, that figure will drop to 50% because of the inroads made by the integrated carriers. These firms offer a rapid, dependable way of moving goods in a competitive world that puts a premium on time and damage-free operations.

That means trouble for the traditonal consolidators, i.e., the air freight forwarders who collect various shippers' goods for onward transportation. Speed has not always been a hallmark because of the consolidation process. There has been a notable reluctance to adapt to the new sales and marketing techniques and offer such services as guaranteed delivery times, electronic tracing, automated billing and other by-now-standard amenities in express.

Still, airlines for years let forwarders be their retailers, saving themselves the trouble of dealing with end users. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.