Solve air cargo handling backlog in HSJIA
Air freight from Bangladesh has been suffering from an unprecedented backlog for the past few weeks. Physical structure of Export Cargo Village at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is witnessing huge pile -up of cargo. The sudden peak is not just the result of increased air cargo by global businesses to quickly refill their inventory levels to meet upcoming Christmas and winter demand. It is also the consequence of prevailing congestion at Chattogram port forcing shippers to move shipment by air freight to meet buyer's arrival deadlines to save them from order cancellation losses.
Other factors contributing to the backlog are severe congestion at Cargo Village due to lack of space to unload cargo and mismanagement by multiple authorities working there. The construction work outside Cargo Village has reduced space for movement of trucks with cargo loads and decreased number of unloading bays. As a result, truck queues are becoming longer and longer everyday taking 2-3 days to unload a truck.
Forwarders are struggling to bring shipments from factory and warehouses as truck drivers are unwilling to come to airport despite high transportation and idle hours costs, just due too long turnaround times.
Scanning of cargo is nightmare at Dhaka airport. Export Cargo village has six scanning machines that are not adequate even for screen normal volumes. In absence ULD scanning machines, individual boxes need to be screened taking long time to complete a shipment. Besides, out of 6 screening machines, 3-4 always remains out of order.
As a result, scanning area always witness long queue of trolleys and pile-up of cargo. Same is the situation in RA3 scanner areas. Most of the time the EDS (Explosive Detection System) machines remain out of order, just because of screening delays sometimes it is not possible to load cargo on the aircraft on time. As result forwarders are missing booking, shippers are facing cancellation for failing to meet arrival deadline, airlines are losing revenue and country's exports earnings are suffering.
Handling cargo at Cargo Village is primitive in absence of modern handling facilities. Airport is not having adequate equipment to load and tow shipments to aircraft. Sometimes flights go under load due to lack of equipment.
Operating airlines from Dhaka airport has combined capacity of uplifting 800 tonnes of shipment per day. Inadequate space at cargo village for unloading and preparing for shipment is not supportive to handle such big volume.
Forwarders and shippers are struggling to get goods uplifted due to lack of space from airlines. Sometimes, scheduled flights are being missed for not being able to handover shipment to airlines on time is happening. Airlines are going under capacity for not receiving shipments timely from forwarders. It is not possible to get another booking promptly and at same rates once shipment misses booked flight. Sometimes, waiting period to get another booking exceeds 8-10 days.
In response to increased demand and backlog, airlines have increased rates, in fact, are increasing daily. Current rates to Europe has reached $5.00, to North America $ 12.00 and to Far East $ 4.25 and above per kilogram up from $ 2.00, $ 3.50 & $1.50 respectively, few months back. Even at those prices waiting for uplift has reached 10-15 days, defeating the purpose of making an air shipment. Same time, handling costs of shipment has increased manifold, an average of $ 0.50 cents per kilogram from previous $ 0, 05 per kilogram. The handling cost and rate hike is having serious impact on shippers and forwarders.
The situation above highlights present crisis with airfreight from Bangladesh. Unfortunately, there seems nobody to address and solve this crisis. All concerned appears waiting for others, at the end nobody is doing anything. Even the exporters, including BGMEA & BKMEA who are the immediate sufferers of this situation do not seem to voice enough concern in this regard. Forwarders are helplessly trying to overcome situation.
Airfreight is a crucial supply chain tool in modern business. A healthy air cargo industry is essential to achieve country's export target. We are looking forward concerned authority's realization of the situation so as to take immediate step to ease present crisis of airfreight. If the present stagnant situation continues too long country's export growth and target may be hampered.
The writer is managing director, Tower Freight Logistics Ltd., Dhaka