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The truck stops here

The RFS market is changing. Airlines want fewer suppliers, forwarders are increasingly involved and drivers are few and far between. Ian Putzger examines the global challenges for trucking firms

Paul Martins is seeing rather a lot of the folks from Singapore Airlines at the moment. “We just got the majority of Singapore Airlines’ RFS activities in the US,” says the senior vice president of sales and marketing for Towne Air Freight.


The deal with SIA Cargo follows another large, pan-regional contract for the road feeder service (RFS) operator. Since 1 April it has been the primary North American provider of logistics and ground transportation for British Airways (BA) and Iberia. Under the multi-year agreement, Towne covers the majority of the two carriers’ RFS and expedited trucking needs in the US and Canada, and BA only retained its original trucking provider on a few lanes between Texas and Florida.


Jason Breakwell, manager of development and key accounts of European RFS player Wallenborn, notes a trend among airlines towards consolidating their RFS needs in a region with a single provider. “A few years ago there was a common trend for multiple vendors; in the last two years it has been more towards single providers,” he says.


Last year, Wallenborn signed a two-year contract with Air Canada to provide road feeder services covering 40 airports in 14 countries in Europe, including the carrier’s major European gateways at Frankfurt and London. In addition, the trucking firm has performed off-line handling for Air Canada in Germany.


Leveraging volume to trim cost has been one factor encouraging the airlines to embrace the single provider concept. In addition, this provides consistent standards throughout the region covered, Breakwell says, an observation echoed by Martins. “The deal (with BA) helps us to align with it what those KPIs are,” he remarks.


Henrik Ambak, who manages the RFS progamme of Cargolux, reports no fundamental change in the cargo airline’s RFS set-up, but adds that the requirements are in permanent evolution. In part, this is due to the change in commodities that RFS providers are hauling, Martins reckons.


“We see a lot less auto parts now; more high-end electronics, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. With these the quality of handling has become more important,” he says.


Another significant change lies in the destinations of many RFS runs. Increasingly, loads go to the consignee instead of the airline client’s warehouse on-airport. “We’re getting more and more requests to deliver direct to customers, not to the airport,” remarks Breakwell.


Towne nowadays performs some home deliveries for a small number of customers. “It’s a tricky market,” Martins comments. “You have to have lots of density to be able to do that.”


For Towne, activities at airports are also undergoing some change. Around Chicago and New York’s JFK airport, the company has been running sprinter vans which pick up small shipments from forwarders at various times during the day. The drivers are equipped with iPads to hook up straight into the company’s system.

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