A key component of the air cargo business never even gets off the ground.
Following the terrorist attacks in 2001, airlines began reducing aircraft sizes on domestic routes in response to lower passenger demand. This created less belly space for large cargo, which forced shipments onto trucks, creating the rise of ground transportation. Due to the recession, today’s shippers continue to opt for these less expensive trucking options.
Transportation experts warn, however, that as our the U.S. economy starts to improve, the subsequent demand for trucking may disrupt supply-chain operations. As the recession
began and continued, insufficient demand and the hiring of fewer drivers forced trucking firms to reduce fleets. Airfreight forwarders are starting to worry that the available trucks will not be able to support their supply-chain needs, which may cause product shortages and delays in delivery.
Decreased demand reduced fleet investment, resulting in a reduction in the amount of available new equipment over the last five years. Furthermore, drivers, discouraged by pending regulations concerning their hours of service and accident records, have left the business. Increased scrutiny has been placed on the industry due to the Compliance Safety Accountability initiative rating. The CSA ranks companies on data collected from roadside inspections, crashes and safety audits. As a result, carriers are being more selective when hiring drivers to limit potential liability.
One of the primary concerns is the domestic road system. Over the years, Congressional inaction in passing a piece of highway legislation to address funding the road system has resulted in significant deterioration. Damage created by poor road surfaces has increased vehicle maintenance costs and delayed delivery times.
Members of the Airforwarders Association recently teamed with those of the Transportation Intermediaries Association for two days of visits on Capitol Hill. During the meetings, AfA members urged lawmakers to pass a long-term, adequately funded extension of the highway bill. Despite the number of industry voices urging a long-term deal, yet another extension was passed on the floor of Congress, leaving the U.S. without a strategy to remedy our nation’s crumbling road infrastructure.
Without attention to the nation’s transportation infrastructure, the national supply chain and the companies it supports may continue to face economic hardships. A lack of improved highways may lead to congestion on access roads. This will result in earlier customer cut-offs due to longer rides to the airport or delayed deliveries. Air cargo experts realize that any infrastructure-improvement package needs to include sufficient funding to improve our nation’s aging air traffic control system as well.
Collaboration is key
As the economy improves and demand increases, it is clear that both trucking and dependent airfreight interests have several common concerns — the first being attracting new drivers. A potential solution to address the arduous life drivers lead would be increased routing efficiency and the splitting of trips between multiple drivers. That way, driving distances could be reduced to get drivers home to their families more frequently, making the profession more appealing.
Additionally, the benefits of industry employment need to be explained to a younger generation, who may have misgivings about the job given the hours, labor and uncertainty in rates and payment. Airfreight forwarders have similar issues with personnel and should work with the trucking industry.
Truckers and airfreight forwarders should also be developing workable strategies to deal with the constantly increasing cost of fuel. Purchasing efficient equipment is a solution to combating the high price of gas. However, significant purchase costs will likely discourage investment while truckers wait for an anticipated 10-percent to 15-percent rate increase from shippers. Airfreight forwarders have grappled with the price in the air and have important lessons to share with their partners on the ground.
As the economy is now showing the first signs of improvement, it is time for both the trucking and airfreight industries to join together to create worthwhile answers that will ensure longevity to this necessary and once noble career endeavor.
— Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association.