Freight piles up. In February 2022, the COVID-19 omicron variant sidelined workers across all industries. Air freight shippers were no exception and the bottlenecks created a downstream effect that is still being felt today.
While cargo stacking has decreased a little bit, the same cannot be said for Shanghai. With one of the largest manufacturing centers in all of China, the country’s “zero-COVID” strategy has led to lockdowns impacting the entire export (and import) sector. As many as 9 out of 10 trucks are on the sidelines and up to 50% of air traffic has been diverted. While this is not yet fully felt in the United States, a tsunami of deferred freight is coming and the impact could be quite severe.
All this has pushed industry players into intense preparation and strategy phases. One of those associations is the Airforwarders Association (AfA). Known within the industry as the travel agents for freight shipments, AfA represents more than 200 member companies that move freight through the supply chain. Members are as small as family businesses with 20 or fewer employees to 1,000+ businesses. AfA is rightly concerned about the current state of affairs and with the aim of minimizing the impending impact, members of AfA’s Airport Congestion Committee (ACC) have agreed to work on five critical issues:
- Technology and automation
- Service Standards
- Airport facilities and infrastructure
- Staff and opening times
- Regulatory and paperwork challenges
The above five were identified through an extensive survey of airport cargo stakeholders. The AfA collaborated with the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) and the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) on the investigation. The final result is a recommendation document highlighting the congestion challenges and proposed solutions.
The survey generated hundreds of responses, and Donna Mullins, vice president of AfA member Kale Info Solutions, and president of the ACC is optimistic that the paper will be adopted. ACC also plans to present its possible solutions to members of Congress and the Secretary of Transportation. They have gained strong buy-in across the entire supply chain, including but not limited to freight forwarders, ground handlers, transportation and technology companies, airlines and airports.
If the slow-moving tsunami does indeed move towards us, a coordinated response will be critical. The next steps and results of the ACC would be decided by the end of May.