Industry Gains Efficiency and Time Savings Through BFS’ Innovations
Bangkok Flight Services (BFS), a joint venture company from Worldwide Flight Services and Bangkok Airways, is a top ground and cargo handling agent operating at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. With over twenty years of experience and a reputation for excellence, BFS’ customer base has consistently expanded, and today includes 56 airlines. Despite widespread difficulties in the global economy, BFS has continued to buck trends and grow its business.
So what’s the secret behind their success? Well, according to Mr. David Ambridge, General Manager – Cargo, Bangkok Flight Services; and Director – Cargo Operations, Asia & Africa, Worldwide Flight Services; the secret is actually quite simple. “Throughout the years that I’ve been here, I’ve always strived for continual improvement. Each year, BFS’ efficiency and productivity have improved while adding more customers and more volume. We are constantly working on ways to enhance our processes for our customers’ benefit and our own.”
One of the best examples of BFS’ drive to innovate has to be its investment in automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) for its facility. “We haven’t received permission to expand, so we continuously have to get more efficient in order to ensure quality service for our growing customer base. The AS/RS machine that we invested $2 million dollars on has been amazing for BFS’ productivity and efficiency. Now a computer system simply sends a message to another computer system, and cargo appears. It’s all automated, and incredibly effective.” With the AS/RS, BFS has been able to grow from 23 airlines to 56 airlines despite not being able to expand their facility at Suvarnabhumi.
Making Advances with the e-Weight Slip
As many readers already know, Mr. Ambridge is an outspoken supporter of e-freight. He has been spreading the word about e-Air Waybills (e-AWB) for years. Last July, he even graced AFL’s front cover with a call to action for the Thai air cargo industry to support e-AWB.
e-AWB offers many benefits, and for a major air cargo hub like Suvarnabhumi, it’s one way to stand out from the competition. Yet current e-AWB penetration in Thailand is estimated to be at around three percent. That’s dramatically lower than IATA’s global count of 28.8% e-AWB penetration.
With e-AWB, we can generate huge cost and time savings. By making this change, we can make Bangkok a more efficient, more effective hub.
“Bangkok is an important hub for air cargo. In 2014, Suvarnabhumi Airport was ranked 21st in the world in air cargo traffic, handling 1.23 million tons of cargo. With e-AWB, we can generate huge cost and time savings. By making this change, we can make Bangkok a more efficient, more effective hub. And these days, there are so many service providers who can help. Whether it’s WIN, TIFFA EDI, or any other, they can all assist with simplifying the e-AWB implementation process,” says Mr. Ambridge.
Just a few of the benefits of e-AWB
- Enhanced productivity
- Faster processing times
- Reduced paper, ink and labor costs
- Improved supply chain visibility
- Greater accuracy and fewer opportunities for error
- Better reliability
As if that weren’t enough, BFS wants to add another innovation that will make it even easier for Thai forwarders to use e-AWB. But in order to understand BFS’ new initiative, the e-weight slip, we first need to understand Thailand’s air cargo export processes, which differ greatly from the standard procedures in many other countries.
The norm internationally is that cargo must be delivered to the airport ‘ready for carriage’ – weighed, measured, and labeled, with documentation completed. In Thailand, however, airlines will only accept certified weights from the two cargo terminals. It’s a system that’s been carried over for years. As Mr. Ambridge describes, “In Thailand, cargo is brought to the airport with incomplete documentation. The shipment is weighed and measured on BFS’ scales. A certified weight slip is given to the agent, who then drives it back to his office, where it is manually keyed into an air waybill. The completed documentation must then be driven back to the airport – which could take hours. Because of this process, we have cargo sitting around with no documents for between one and 12 hours.”
This process causes unnecessary delays and also creates visibility problems for BFS, as the lack of documentation makes it more difficult to keep track of these shipments. That’s why BFS has worked hard to create an innovative workaround with the e-weight slip.
“The amount of time it takes agents to bring the documentation back to us is excessive. So we have this huge gap of time where we have cargo without information. We’ve worked for a year to find a solution to close that gap. We spent a considerable amount of time and money to design a software system that can send weight slips electronically,” says Mr. Ambridge.
The e-weight slip, in conjunction with e-AWB, completely removes the need to drive documents back and forth.
When the shipment is received at BFS, it is weighed, and then the e-weight slip is instantaneously sent to the agent, who uses it to complete their e-AWB. They can then send the completed e-AWB back to BFS with the click of a button. It’s that simple, and can lead to immense cost and time savings. Trucks and drivers and couriers can be reallocated to other tasks, shipments can be made ready for carriage earlier, ground handlers and airlines get shipment information in advance – everybody benefits.
In addition to this, BFS is also offering yet another incentive for Thai forwarders to use e-AWB: a fast lane for those who use electronic air waybills. “We’re going to have a fast lane for e-AWB shipments. The trucks will not have to queue up, because we now have a dedicated door just for e-AWB. After implementing a new traffic flow system, we don’t really have queues at BFS anymore, but I just want to ensure that e-AWB is the fastest lane, the priority lane,” Mr. Ambridge explains.
Changing the Industry Through Collaboration
Though Mr. Ambridge is focused on improving his company and its services, he’s also concerned with helping the air cargo industry improve. The industry has struggled over the past few years, and there are some concerns for its future as well, particularly with expanding fleets and potential overcapacity. That’s why Mr. Ambridge believes that ground handlers, forwarders, airlines and shippers all need to work together. The air cargo industry needs to step up its game and collaborate to make sure airfreight services are fully meeting customers’ needs.
What we need to do is have much more inclusive discussions, where freight forwarders, shippers, airlines and ground handlers all need to sit together and talk.
“We are down to 0.5 percent of world trade moving by air. This has happened because companies have found other means of transport to deliver what they need – something air cargo hasn’t been able to do. After all, the average time from shipper to consignee is six days. Since the early days of the industry, this has never changed, never improved. It’s absurd,” says Mr. Ambridge. “What we need to do is have much more inclusive discussions, where freight forwarders, shippers, airlines and ground handlers all need to sit together and talk. We need to actually ask the shipper what speed of service they want, and if they need something faster than the typical six day service, then we have to work together to figure out a way to do it. We can improve the air cargo industry. We just have to make the effort to change – embrace technology like e-AWB and initiate collaborative discussions.”