A Forwarder’s Concerns
One on one with Chris Coppersmith
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
LOS ANGELES — Chris Coppersmith is president of Target Logistics Services, a freight forwarding company based near Los Angeles International Airport, and a co-founder of the Airforwarders Association, based in Washington. He recently sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss his concerns about access at U.S. airports. Here’s an edited transcript.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: The sense one gets in talking with airports is that there is at times a communications gap between cargo-related firms and those who run airports.
COPPERSMITH: To me the point is, most of the (passenger) carriers are going to be utilized by us whether or not there’s passenger traffic going in that direction. Of course, it’s the seats that pay for the aircraft, and in the minds of most of the conventional passenger carriers, it is not what’s in bellies that counts as much as who’s in the seats. However, that having been said, what’s in the bellies can sometimes determine how large that aircraft is or whether or not it’s a particularly profitable route.
Most large airports are going to spend millions in order to upgrade their passenger-type facilities to be able to attract more carriers, which is going to have a greater return than a cargo facility on a dollar-to-dollar basis, even though the percentage of yield might be better with cargo.
So, the question is, where is cargo going to be the predominant factor at any given airport? It’s probably going to be the dominant factor in any offshoot airport, when it is not 100 percent passenger-oriented — a secondary market which has the ability to weigh passenger and cargo services on a more equal basis, or even a pure business or cargo type market such as along the border of Mexico.
AB: Companies like yours frequently don’t have facilities on-airport. Is access the key issue for you?
COPPERSMITH: Access is critical. We’re eleven miles off the airport, located next to a major freeway system. Right now, the access to the cargo facilities at this airport (LAX) are OK; we are concerned about them staying that way.
Facilities have to have capability, and capability means, when we’ve got trucks that are coming into these facilities, do they have room to turn around? Is it easy in and out? Will they be able to discharge whatever cargo they’re holding in time for the carrier to be able to pack it, load it, and put it on their aircraft?
AB: Related to access, how big an issue is security for your company?
COPPERSMITH: At LAX, technically no driver should even be on their docks. It’s defined pretty well.
The FAA and DOT have various requirements for us to follow. We have to know each shipper that we ship for; we have to know what their product is; we have to get a signature and identification from them and keep that on file.
FAA holds spot audits. They’ve been in eight of my facilities and an equal number or more of my competitors; checking our records, our files, our shipper endorsement letters that we keep for every shipment. It’s not airtight, but it’s a step toward tighter security.
AB: How does that compare internationally?
COPPERSMITH: It varies from country to country. Let me give you one example: London Heathrow. It requires — and they charge for this — an X-ray of cargo. If you have it done at the airline ramp, they charge you so much and you’re required to keep it on your dock for a set period of time -- 24 hours basically -- so anything that’s going to explode does so on your dock. If you have your own X-ray machine which has been certified by their authority, then you can X-ray it and tender it to the airline faster.
AB: What can airports do to address your needs?
COPPERSMITH: The most constructive thing airports can do is to establish a regular dialog. The only people who ask for input are certain municipalities; Denver asked when they were building their airport. They ignored the input, but they did ask.
Usually they will talk to the Air Freight Association, the integrators, which makes sense since they’re the ones operating the aircraft. They may think that since some of those integrators are also forwarders, they’ve covered the industry, but in fact there is $5 billion worth of air freight which belongs to another association and they don’t operate aircraft.
We’ve got some pretty good ideas on how to help with congestion at an airport, how to be able to get trucks in and out more easily, how to be able to handle cargo in a more comprehensive manner. We don’t mind security; or if background checks are done on our drivers, if we do them. If that helps us to get our cargo moved faster at an airport, we’ll do it in an instant.
From the same standpoint, if we were to electronically link with any one of those airlines and the airport wanted to be the facilitator of this activity, and it was used as a means for forwarders who have pre-filed their documentation or have properly laid out their freight so it doesn’t have to be rehandled, or have sent any other electronic messages that will facilitate things faster on the ramp, we’d do that in an instant too.
We told the airlines, specifically — and airports can be the facilitator — if you want to stop congestion and I’ve got the capability to make it easier for you, then give me an incentive. And the incentive is for you to be able to handle the freight.