Air Cargo Data has become the “new oil”

Air cargo data is commercial air freight shipment data sourced from the AWB. It reveals the actual transaction between a carrier and its forwarder, and is thus a valuable source for pricing decision-making. Provided however, vendors are enabled to compete based on sound and transparent factors. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in the day-to-day practice of the air freight business, as the example of Virgin Atlantic Cargo illustrates, published exclusively in this online portal.

Source: courtesy Investopia

The best-known provider of this market information is IATA’s marketing tool, CargoIS, enabling users to measure and benchmark their air freight activities and create cost-effective transport strategies. However, why airlines book this data service without any tender is a mystery, as there are also other providers of the new “data oil” keeping the freight business running, holds René Portal, head of MI-t, an MS cloud-based application whose database is fed by airlines.

Lufthansa Cargo inked CargoIS deal without tender
He cites two examples of questionable behavior, that of LH Cargo and Royal Jordanian Cargo. First to LH Cargo: The carrier announced its renewal of the IATA CargoIS agreement at IATA’s World Cargo Symposium, held shortly ago in Hong Kong. This market tool has been in place for nearly as long as CASS operates. However, Lufthansa Cargo’s step would have been more credible and newsworthy had the carrier tendered the services to the best bidder. Instead, management awarded it to an organization that monetizes airlines’ data under a tax exemption status that no other vendor could dream of. In addition, such practice is not in line with an industry that praises digitalization and real-time data at everyone’s fingertips. It is an agreement inked by an IATA member and the airline association that commercializes data from thousands of air waybills, in this case submitted by Lufthansa Cargo. These data, contributed by Lufthansa Cargo and others, represent an immense value. It is therefore all the more surprising that such deals are not tendered before contracts are inked. After all, there are more providers of intelligence and up-to-date data services out there than just IATA’s CargoIS that is priced as commercially as any other product.

The Royal Jordanian example
Contrary to European peers, some Middle East carriers do tender – especially those government-controlled. But does this lead to more equitable practices? Not in the ones ‘Market Intelligence tank’ (MI-t) was invited to participate in. Royal Jordanian tendered for air cargo data in 2023, after having contracted a vendor for the prior year without considering any other potential bidder. Provider MI-t had already run a trial period before, supported by on-site presentations in AMM.  That led Royal Jordanian Cargo to choose a vendor the airline had no prior

experience with. The worst part came during the tendering process when Procurement instructed Market Intelligence tank to change the contract term it had originally offered in the commercial proposal, from one to three years, simply to match the term offered by the other vendor. Because the agreement draft in MI-t’s proposal provided renewal at convenience, Royal Jordanian already had multiple years of service guaranteed but without the burden of a longer commitment. In the end, Procurement notified their decision only after MI-t asked, in writing, for the intervention of their Head of Legal following eight months of unanswered e-mails and declined phone and WhatsApp calls.

The Virgin Atlantic Cargo principle
The tender practice of airlines is often opaque. This is illustrated by the scandalous example of Virgin Atlantic Cargo, published in CargoForwarder Global recently and thus made known to a wider audience (view our website).

It is not uncommon for tenders to be decided according to the buddy principle: I know you, you know me – deal done. It is an open secret that financial donations sometimes ‘help’ to decide which GSA will be awarded a sales contract. It is a mystery as to why, despite internal audits and the digitalization of business processes, such cases of corruption are not or only very rarely brought to light.

In a narrower sense, the term ‘compliance’ means that a company and its employees comply with the law. This is intended to ensure that market participants don’t play foul, but instead act seriously and with integrity in daily business practices. This said, it would be desirable if some cargo carriers not only had these principles written in bold letters on their website, but would also adhere to them when launching a tender and before signing a sales contract.

Phil Wardlaw leaves Atlantic Cargo
The helmsman of the cargo section of Virgin Atlantic has handed in his resignation. This was confirmed by the airline’s communications department on request. In detail, spokesperson Louise Gallagher writes the following:

“Phil has made the decision to leave Virgin Atlantic for a new role at another global airline. We’ve begun the process of recruiting his successor and will announce this as soon as we’re in a position to do so.” Ms. Gallagher did not answer the question as to whether Emirates was the airline for which the manager would be working in future. It seems that there is no interrelation between Wardlaw’s upcoming Virgin exit and the management’s dubious tender practices. Asked about this, Virgin Cargo’s spokesperson did not touch on this issue in her email to CargoForwarder Global.                                      

Heiner Siegmund



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