Air Cargo Leaders: Monika Ribar, Stephen Dawkins
As a general sales and service agent, Dawkins has focused on helping airlines reduce their overhead by providing third-party cargo resources. And with the economy only looking more rocky next year, he says GSAs will become more popular.
“2012 is going to be a tough year with the economic crisis that’s going on now,” he says, noting that fuel costs will most likely keep rising and the passenger side of the business, which tends to trail economic fluctuations on the cargo side, will take a bit of a hit. “Airlines will want to be looking to strip costs out of their business. Obviously, they’ll be looking to the cargo department to make their contribution to getting costs out of the business.”
The whole business angle of outsourcing cargo sales and services through GSAs is relatively new. According to Dawkins, organizations like his really started appearing in the late 1970s as a way for carriers, who had been accustomed to providing all the cargo-related activities themselves, to cut out costs. Business for GSAs picked up in the mid-’80s and ’90s because, as Dawkins says, officials were looking for help with cargo bookings, financial support and a host of other services.
GSA organizations have their detractors, and while Dawkins’ future outlook for the business as a whole is rosy, there are a few difficulties ahead. As technology changes the face of the cargo industry, Dawkins says companies like his simply have to adapt to new competition. Online booking portals that directly connect shippers and carriers present a new wrinkle in his business model, but one thing these systems can’t offer is the added bits of value he says GSAs bring to the table. Dawkins is confident, however, that online booking portals and the like present no real challenge to his business.
“We’ve seen them come, and we’ve seen them go,” he says. “At the end of the day, there are some organizations who will book online through a portal, and then there are other organizations that want to continue working with a freight forwarder.”
One sticking point that is much more out of his control is the perception of cargo throughout the aviation industry. Passenger-related activity seems more glamorous to people, he says, because cargo rides on the dirty end of the plane. But even fighting the perception that cargo isn’t worthwhile is fun for Dawkins; he loves the industry, that’s why he’s been in it for so long.
“It’s a very dynamic business to be involved with,” he says. “It’s like climbing Mount Everest. There just never seems to be an end to it.”
Hiking that peak, which to him is a continual, steep ascent even when the industry is at its most depressed, hasn’t tired Dawkins out yet.