Cyber security is vital in freight forwarding: AfA

Airforwarders’ Association (AfA) has become one of the primary associations advocating freight, forwarding and logistics community in Washington. Brandon Fried, Executive Director, discusses about issues deterring growth of global freight forwarding sector and the association’s plans in 2023.

Ritika Arora Bhola

Global air cargo industry has witnessed many ups and downs, be it COVID, Russia-Ukraine war, and the ongoing global economic crisis. How have you guided the freight forwarders to survive in those trying times?

We have all felt the pain of capacity constraints because of our ageing or outdated infrastructure. Earlier this year, AfA formed an Airport Congestion Committee comprising members of all segments of our industry. This group recently published a White Paper concerning causes for airport congestion and recommended solutions. Our hope is to urge lawmakers to allocate funds to cover the costs of improving cargo areas and increasing automation at the major US gateway airports. At AfA, we have helped set up cargo ops at lesser utilized airports to avoid backlogs at major hubs. A key area with which we all must deal daily is regulation. We would like to see a lot more simplification and better alignment of the regulatory programs under which we all operate.

There are times when the programs for airlines do not align directly with ours, and that can lead to extra costs, confusion, and operational challenges. Similarly, the global security programs have an impact on us, and when there are standards, where different countries have non-aligned programs, and air cargo touches multiple countries, that too adds to the burden.

The expanding regulatory environment is why we continue to work so closely with TSA and other country security groups to develop the best solution possible of the air cargo supply chain. This is intended to assist our regulatory partners in creating efficient, regulations, which can better reflect to the ever-changing environment in which we operate.

What is the current state of the global air cargo/freight forwarding industry? How do you see the growth graph moving in 2023?

The AfA has gone through a few challenging years, and our industry has had to adapt quickly. While the forwarder segment has been flexible and led the way in creating innovative solutions for our customers, we have stepped up the game further doing things such as chartering passenger aircraft for cargo or setting up programs to move and distribute critical vaccines, medications, or critical lifesaving equipment.

We are optimistic about the future, but we are certainly cognizant that issues such as rising fuel costs, global disruptions to supply chains, or other economic issues over which we have no control, can affect our business. We must help our customers adapt to continual change. Of course, cost pressure comes into play, with fuel, labour and other costs increasing and fluctuating. But consumer demand remains high, and the industry has long had a pricing structure that is able to cope with those pressures, with many contracts allowing for monthly surcharges to account for the changes, both upward and downward. Having said this, I remain optimistic in 2023.

Can you suggest any efficient solutions to resolve the critical issues?

Moving from a paper-intensive to a digital environment is important for all of us. Of course, digitization comes with its own challenges, and we must address cyber security on all fronts. At AfA, we have taken this task to heart through the work of our Technology Committee, which is helping our members understand what the challenges are and how best we can address them. The lack of airline pilots and other transportation worker shortages can certainly have an impact on us. This is more of an issue in the passenger carrier part of the equation, as there are more flights affected by this issue than in freighter aircraft operations. Carrier disruptions have an effect on our ability to move cargo “as planned”.

Whether it is weather-related disruptions, or major carriers cancelling thousands of flights, or this week’s FAA disruption, these are challenges for all of us. We must remain flexible and nimble, and the forwarding community has always responded effectively.

What are your top priorities in 2023? What are the issues you are planning to address to the concerned authorities?

  • Aligning regulatory programs
  • Infrastructure
  • Reducing airport cargo-area congestion
  • Cyber security
  • Reducing paper and streamlining reporting
  • Assisting our members in dealing with normalizing cargo volumes in a post-pandemic recovery

Take us through AfA’s recent developments and achievements?

  • The AFA participates in industry activities, while continuing to broadcast news pertaining to daily monitoring of legislative and regulatory initiatives that could impact members’ operations, intervening as appropriate. Here are some examples:
  • The association continues to call for action on the lingering airport cargo congestion issue by urging Congress and the states to act now.
  • The AfA keeps members informed about export cybersecurity requirements
  • AfA keeps members informed about ongoing BIS Russia sanctions
  • AfA kept members informed about Maritime Demurrage & Detention requirements
  • Established a special committee to assist TSA in the Security Threat

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How important is sustainability for air cargo? What steps are taken in this regard?

There is no doubt that global warming is influencing our climate. We must all work together to ensure that we do our part. Regulators are asking for more and the shipping community is demanding this of us as well. The AfA’s Environmental Sustainability Committee strives to find ways to improve and participate with all our industry partners. As fuel prices increase, both the air as well as the all-important “ground” segments of the air cargo supply chain feel the pain. We have seen companies looking at electric and hybrid vehicles.

Although most do not operate aircraft, we do have vast fleets of surface vehicles, and are working diligently to replace them wherever possible with clean fuel vehicles, and in some cases, EVs. We have reduced waste by converting from a paper-intensive environment to an “e” information one, even pushing our regulators to utilize that process for compliance processes.