Brandon Fried, Executive Director of the Airforwarders Association, tells how his industry has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic so far, and what changes might be in the offing when it’s over.
Air forwarders have survived the pandemic “in a robust fashion,” Fried says. The industry played a key role in transporting personal protective equipment, and later the COVID-19 vaccine, during the crisis. At the same time, it had to cope with big disruptions in supply, including the grounding of half the world’s passenger aviation fleet. Half of North American air freight capacity is carried in the bellies of passenger planes, he notes.
With passenger traffic at a near standstill, airlines repurposed some of their planes to carry freight on the main deck, creating so-called “phreigthers.” It took a while for the Federal Aviation Administration to authorize that space for freight, but once it did, “we were able to use airline cargo flights in a very significant fashion,” Fried says, adding that many of the association’s members were chartering such flights on a daily basis.
Traditionally, the wide price difference between air and ocean transport has prevented cargo moving by the latter mode from taking to the skies. But a combination of rising ocean freight rates and severe congestion at major seaports, especially in Southern California, created an opportunity for air forwarders to book cargo that was formerly restricted to the water. “Time is money,” Fried says, “and as air freight forwarders, we sell time for a living. Often we have a significant portion of [ocean] shipments being diverted to the airport because the shipper didn’t have time to wait.” That said, shippers and forwarders have also had to contend with congestion at airports, many of which are in need of significant renovation to handle freight.
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