United Cargo factors in headwinds

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For 2019, United Cargo is factoring in the headwinds to future growth and focusing on reasons to be optimistic, Jim Bellinder tells Air Cargo Week.

The vice president cargo sales Americas says 2018 was a tremendous year with overall tonnage, the speciality product business and improving customer relationships all resulted in record cargo revenue of $1.24 billion. 2019 has proved ambiguous, with issues such as trade wars, tariffs and protectionism not going away.

Geopolitical unrest continues and Brexit remains as clear as mud with Theresa May bowing to the inevitable and resigning, with the UK now bracing itself for either Prime Minister Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt. At the time of writing, Brexit is scheduled for 31 October.

While politicians continue to make a lot of noise and do nothing of use, business must continue. Bellinder says: “My philosophy has always been to focus on reasons to be optimistic, and those signals are present as well.”

Global issues such as US-China trade tensions and Brexit have had some impact, but Bellinder says it has not been as catastrophic as predicted by the doomsayers.

He says: “Ironically, some of the most notable effects have been felt in the weeks and days leading up to deadlines when increased tariffs would be imposed – in those timeframes, we experienced volumes increases as customers raced to ‘beat the deadline.’”

Success for United Cargo was consistent throughout the network, with Bellinder saying: “One of the most gratifying aspects of 2018’s success was that, unlike many productive years where a few lanes or regions deliver extraordinary results and compensate for those that don’t, every United Cargo team in the Americas Region (and around the globe) enjoyed success.”

The TempControl service for pharmaceuticals, healthcare materials and other temperature-sensitive commodities was expanded in 2018 and 2019. It has been upgraded through the use of CSafe RAP and Sonoco PharmaPort 360 containers and the Savsu evo Cold Chain 2.0 system, giving customers greater choice.

The pharma and healthcare shipping marketplace is constantly evolving. Bellinder says: “Our shipment of live cells used in biotechnology and precision medicine applications is increasing, and customers shipping to and from every region of the globe need access to the extremely precise, long-duration temperature control required for the safe transport of these highly valuable biopharmaceutical shipments. That’s why we never stop our research into additional and enhanced TC packaging options.”

Digital transformation is one of United Cargo’s top priorities for 2019 to enhance digital channels and customer experience.

Bellinder says: “The fundamental question we want to answer is: how can we combine what we currently do best with new creative uses of technology and process enhancements to generate effective, and cost-competitive, transport solutions for e-commerce and the rest of our product suite?”

He says it is crucial to adapt to customer expectations. “B2B customers – including air cargo customers – are looking to enjoy the same benefits from digitisation as B2C customers now enjoy,” Bellinder says.

He adds: “Since collaboration is key to our logistics model, making the most of the opportunity presented by e-commerce will require higher levels of innovation, flexibility and cooperation among shippers, forwarders and carriers, and we’re eager to work with our current partners to ensure air cargo embraces the challenge.”

Looking to the future, Bellinder says the two main challenges of doing business in the Americas are the rising cost and limited capacity of trucking, along with the tight labour market.

He says there is a shortage of available truck capacity for road feeder services with trucks operating at near maximum capacity.

Bellinder adds: “The tight labour market is a challenge that affects our sales and service partners and United Cargo, as we rely on these partners to train and develop the careers of the people who connect directly with our customers at our facilities around the globe.”

There are still things that excite Bellinder, like whether the next innovative opportunity is at the other end of the next phone call. He admits to loving it when entrepreneurial people present him with a challenge.

Bellinder says: “Brainstorming options and developing a solution together recalls the pioneering spirit that gave birth to the airline industry itself and United Airlines in particular – so these are the kind of ideas we are eager to learn about and explore.”