Vladimir Zubkov asks: When it comes to air cargo, how do we know what good service looks like?

According to the Airports Council International, there are more than 17,000 airports in the world that handle cargo. That represents a lot of choice for freight forwarders for whom timely delivery of cargo will be a major deciding factor in choosing country entry points.

Such decisions will partly be based on geography. The proximity to onward destinations and assessments of the total mileage involved in transportation is always a major consideration. In today’s world, some of that decision should also be influenced by the potential carbon footprint. But, to date, business deals in air cargo have mostly been limited to the cost consideration, with less emphasis on the quality aspect. As a result, air cargo is losing its market and value to the customers.

At the airports themselves, what is needed most is a smooth transition of cargo. The bottom line remains a major deciding factor, and delays due to, for example, superfluous documentation, inadequate provision of ground handling services or even slow moving technology can all prove costly.

At The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), we have the goal of developing an efficient, modern, and unified air cargo industry worldwide. We represent all segments of the air cargo supply chain and want all elements of our industry to perform in a way that makes air cargo a preferred mode of transportation. Until recently, assessment of the quality of our performance has been limited to opinion swapping at industry events and conferences.

There was no way to collate data in order to build consensus about the quality of services, and no objective way to make useful comparisons that would aid decision making about getting freight to its destination. What was needed was a way of benchmarking global standards for the airfreight industry to adopt, to build quality awareness and culture in the air cargo supply chain to boost air cargo as a preferred mode of transportation.

In response, TIACA developed the Cargo Service Quality (CSQ) tool, which allows freight forwarders to rate the level of service quality they receive at cargo terminals by way of a survey. We think it will be the key to understanding how to increase customer satisfaction and improve business performance for everyone in our sector.

The survey is designed for air cargo supply chain stakeholders that require up-to-date feedback on their service performance to drive superior operational and strategic decision-making. It helps the participating stakeholder to understand performance on the day, as well as any changes over time, and allows benchmarking and comparison of performance against competitors.

The aim is to assess quality across the entire air cargo supply chain and to identify opportunities for improvement. It will provide airports and cargo terminals with business insight and help guide investment decisions.

Rating and ranking is based on answers submitted through an online portal and provide ratings on several factors including process, technology, facilities, regulators, and general airport infrastructure, amongst other variables. But would it work? To ensure that it did, we conducted a pilot with 179 freight forwarders and 18 cargo terminal operators around the world. They included India’s Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport, AAICLAS Chennai Cargo Terminal, Indonesia’s PT Jasa Angkasa Semestra, Hong Kong’s Asia Airfreight Terminal and Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS) Ltd, amongst others. During the trial we observed airports embracing an environment of collaboration and visibility, leading the way for change in their communities. Cargo terminals in Asia, Africa and Europe are now participating in CSQ.

The performance of freight forwarders, airlines, and cargo terminals is made transparent with the use of the tool, meaning shippers will have the ability to choose based on the level of quality they desire. By having visibility of the quality of service delivered as perceived by the customer, and the ability to accurately identify the areas in need of improvement, all players in the supply chain can focus on continuous improvement so that consistent levels of services are delivered.

We want every element of the air cargo industry to perform to optimal standards in order that our services remains essential and so our customers can relax, safe in the knowledge they can rely on us. Every industry has to adapt, not only to survive, but in order to remain relevant and competitive. The transparency and visibility that CSQ brings is part of the new vision and mission that TIACA has developed over the last couple of years.

As the world changes and modernises, successive epochs bring new and exciting challenges. Going forward, TIACA will be looking to ensure that the air cargo industry is attractive to a new generation of talent and ensuring we make the best use of technology to optimise efficiency. The CSQ tool can help us all to up our game to give the best service possible. That is surely a goal worth striving for

Vladimir Zubkov is the Secretary General for The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) which represents, supports, informs, and connects every element of the global air freight supply chain. TIACA lobbies governments and regulators, provides valuable networking opportunities, organises and hosts leading industry events, and gives guidance, advice, and specialist career development training for members.