Shippers’ behaviour compounding air freight congestion

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Shippers can help to significantly reduce cargo congestion at major airports by adjusting their behaviour, attitudes, and expectations, according to senior freight forwarders.

Forwarders told an air freight seminar at this year’s Multimodal exhibition and conference that while forwarders operated seven days a week, many cargo owners were still wedded to a five-day working week, contributing to uneven demand patterns and major unsustainable peaks in volumes on Fridays and weekends that put huge stress on finite space and resources at airport cargo facilities.

“If we look at the congestion points at the airport, it is driven by the five-day cycle of shippers,” said one forwarder. “It puts the pinch-points at the weekend, which puts pressure on the sheds and capacity.”

He said some customers had a more sophisticated approach, but believed that a lot would benefit from education about the impact of their current patterns and cycles on the air logistics chain.

Nigel Wilkins, head of UK air freight operations for DB Schenker, said his organisation had recently been discussing these issues with customers, noting that it tended to be SME shippers that particularly wanted capacity at weekends. “We have to monitor and resource that,” he said.

One option to encourage behaviour that could smooth out cargo flows included offering price incentives, forwarders said, although the results were mixed. “As forwarders, we do try to be innovative. But perhaps we need to have a bit more understanding from the market place,” suggested Wilkins.

Another forwarder said the relatively high price of air freight meant that customers often wanted their goods to arrive as soon as possible, even if they did not need them immediately. In some cases, even those customers that understood the challenges – and sometimes the futility – of insisting cargo is collected from them on a Friday were under pressure from others within their organisation who, for example, did not want to see cargo that was ready for shipment on a Friday afternoon still sitting there on a Monday morning.

But Wilkins and other forwarders agreed that in the absence of a meaningful cargo community-led approach, forwarders, airlines, and ground handlers would eventually be able to take advantage of new technology developments to individually streamline their air logistics supply chains – for example, using advance digital data about the pre-arrival of shipments to better predict volumes and time their delivery and collection at airport cargo handling facilities.