Based in Geneva, Switzerland, with more than 33 years of experience and representing dozens of GSSAs around the world, the Federation of Airline General Sales Agents (FEDAGSA), the association has witnessed the evolution of the industry.
The GSSA has two customers – freight forwarders requiring a service and the carrier who may be offering such a service or part of it. Having developed beyond the traditional model, modern GSSAs do more than just sell carrier space, they have become solution stops for carriers who want to outsource processes.
“Carriers seek more services and GSSAs seek to supply those,” Glenn Shires, Secretary General of FEDAGSA, said. “The impact on the GSSA is that they need more tools and in some cases the knowledge of how to use them.”
To aid in that, FEDAGSA offers its members a range of tools and services, meaning that they can provide pretty much whatever the carrier is asking. With the service side undoubtedly increasing, FEDAGSA sees increasing alliances between its members to provide network and area services when required.
While times have been challenging for the air cargo industry, GSSAs have managed to weather the storm by being inherently flexible in their approach. Members created services to meet the needs of forwarders when carriers were down, adding a charter leg if necessary to make connecting services work during the pandemic. Even now, GSSAs are making services available. “Think about it and the value of the offline GSSA can be incredible,” Shires said.
This ability to adapt and remain strong has been shown in how GSSAs have been pretty good at retaining staff throughout the pandemic, avoiding the labour challenges that other companies are now facing, as they rebuilt from the impact of Covid. Unfortunately though, there are some barriers that cannot be dodged. “Inflation is hitting everyone,” Shires accepted. Although, there are ways to mitigate its effects, with technology helping them make sure their top line rises with inflation, protecting jobs and, ultimately, the business.
Having seen digitalisation coming fast pre-Covid, FEDAGSA created Tricargo.aero – a window available to all forwarders, so they can see what’s on offer and who from. “It’s free for the forwarders of course and, with all our members starting it off in January, we even have other platforms joining in and FIATA smiling too. We are neutral and not-for-profit so of course its the tool you would expect us to come up with,” Shires explained.
This swift embrace of technological innovation came while other parts of the airfreight sector were slow to adapt to digitalisation. “The GSSAs got it about right – watching what works and more importantly what doesn’t. GSSA has two Ss because the service side is absolutely vital to getting repeat business.”
While many challenges abound internationally for the airfreight industry, and other global sectors, falling volumes is the main area of concern for GSSAs. After all, they rely on having a booming cargo market to ensure business remains strong. “We only make money if we sell and if we sell less for less then this is bad for business. We have to be inventive – and we fortunately are.”
Amid these challenges, GSSAs might hope that governments would act in the best interests of industries that keep the world moving smoothly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, as governments have been often too slow to combat the issues that have impacted the supply chain. FEDAGSA is no stranger to the problem of this inefficiency, with Shires highlighting how government either don’t know or can’t do much for the industry. “In fact, if government were just not in the way, things would flow better and changes could be made faster in response to market needs.”
When asked what governments could do, if anything to aid the industry, Shires stated that “if we could ask for anything it would be to wake up to the monopoly situations at airport operators, to remove the block exemptions on non-governmental organisations that hide behind them and shut people down for restrictive practices. Let’s have fair clean markets. That would be nice.”
Sustainability is playing an increasingly key role in the airfreight industry’s thinking, as companies look to become more environmentally friendly. For sustainable options to truly be developed, its first important to understand what ‘sustainable’ really is. Batteries aren’t a completely clean option, pollution has moved east, etc. “Follow the science, not governments, to get clean quicker,” Shires said.
“Some of our members have really jumped aboard this cause and others are seeking to show to the customers “greener” options,” Shires explained. “FEDAGSA is watching closely because if a genuine auditable green standard is created in airfreight we will get behind it. We are on high alert for the inevitable “greenwashing” seen in say the auto industry.”
Airfreight isn’t a stationary industry. It’s ever changing. As the GSSA model has evolved over time, there will be further development in the future. There has been some significant consolidation over the years with some GSSAs becoming bigger than many of their carriers. However, the start ups are “coming through really well and carriers are learning to choose a la carte sometimes”. “It is fascinating to watch of course and FEDAGSA is always here to help all of our members big or small,” Shires stated.