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No mission impossible

Alan Kennedy explains how emergency logistics services keep the air freight industry free from turbulence

The emergence of specialised freighters after the Second World War, coupled with the development of widebody aircraft in the late 1960s, has seen air freight grow enormously, if at times sporadically, into a fast, reliable and secure form of longhaul transportation for urgent, high value and perishable goods. Nowadays, around one third of all goods (based on value) moved around the world go by air, courtesy of a huge intertwined network of airlines, airports and support organisations.


It's a growth that has been greatly facilitated by increasingly global governance through multilateral and bilateral treaties, the work of global organisations such as IATA and ICAO, and more recently, the emergence of civil 'open skies' agreements. Just as important have been the benefits from huge economies of scale, as small local operators have metamorphosed into the giant transnational carriers and logistics providers that dominate the world of air freight in the 21st century.


The industry's steady defragmentation resulting from the growth of these big integrated forwarders and third-party logistics providers has revolutionised the economics of air freight. Historically, the industry has always battled with 'feast or famine' demand variability created by the complex interactions of capacity considerations, business forecasting complexities, price elasticity, a ferocious competitive climate and a host of other volatile variables. Over time these commercial uncertainties have served to stimulate a huge degree of structural consolidation, with freight companies integrating, both horizontally and vertically, in a bid to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and balance out market oscillations.


In all cases, the resulting major-league players have been obliged to develop business models predicated around business continuity, inter-modal standardisation, market intelligence and statistical certainty. This is because the wholesale pursuit of these data-driven models optimises business levels, maximises revenues and ensures the safe, reliable and cost-effective shipment of 99.9% of all air freight.


Air freight premium

While the conveyor is busy cutting its costs, the shipper – i.e. the paying customer – is relentlessly pursuing the sacred sourcing goals of service, reliability and value for money. No matter what a service-level agreement between them may stipulate, or what target KPIs have been agreed, no air freight customer is looking for 99.9% service. They want 100% service, 100% of the time. That's why they pay an air freight premium.


This 0.1 shortfall of service doesn't just relate to poor standards of performance, it is also about the small proportion of 'non-standard' cargo that doesn't fit neatly into standard freight norms. Such freight might be heavy, oversized, high value, dangerous, humanitarian, extremely urgent, require a remote destination, or be mission critical. But no matter how outlandish, infrequent and difficult the requirement, large-scale forwarding agents are expected to accommodate these 'out of spec' consignments as part of the job.


This is where the emergency specialists come in. Most big freight forwarders, and many regular shippers, have got partnerships in place with virtuoso emergency service providers to enable them to provide a complete, totally seamless service to ever-more demanding clients. Such auxiliary operations work as an integral part of a 3PL team, smoothing out the inevitable wrinkles that stem from exceptional and unexpected customer demands.


Long pedigree

One of these companies operates out of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Walking into the office of Global Airlift Solutions (GAS) near Findel Airport is an illusory experience. From the calm, professional atmosphere, there is little obvious indication of the often critical, sometimes nail-biting, always demanding nature of the assignments that form their core business.


GAS is a young company, but one with a long pedigree. Its roots date back to 2000, when what was to become the GAS team was set up to service the air charter, critical care and onboard courier requirements of one of the world's biggest logistics and forwarding companies.


In his relaxed manner, Bruno Fitzi, the company's Managing Director, describes the organisation's business philosophy: "GAS is all about trust, teamwork, reliability and the delivery of service and results," he stresses. "In a business of this kind, a lack of planning, knowledge or experience can lead to serious financial, operational, even life-threatening consequences. This is why GAS has brought together a team of specialists that combine a full spectrum of technical and commercial expertise and a collective experience totalling more than 200 years. With experts in aviation, logistics and forwarding, as well as engineering and tourism, we combine global experience, comprehensive industry knowledge, meticulous attention to detail and a full service capability to bring the highest achievable levels of customer satisfaction."


Fast and professional communications and staff empowerment are at the centre of the company's approach. "All of our specialists are given the authority to make immediate decisions," he continues. "This encourages flexibility and guarantees fast response times. For an emergency logistics provider it's a critical quality that creates a decision-making structure that bigger organisations invariably struggle to emulate."  >>

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