Steal Your Own Freight: O’Hare Freight Delays Require Drastic Measures
Chicago’s desperate logistics service providers are resorting to a number of new tactics, including bribes and undercover mining missions, to avoid escalating the congestion that traps shipments for more than a day. week in freight terminals at O’Hare International Airport, according to industry executives.
Shipment volumes to O’Hare have exploded over the past 18 months as companies turn to air travel for critical imports of personal protective equipment, restocking depleted stocks and to weather disruption in the industry. manufacturing and marine supply chain. The facilities are understaffed and lacking enough space to quickly process mountains of cargo unloaded from the giant freighters that have prevailed since COVID devastated lower-capacity passenger flights.
Freight handling companies say the backlog is so large that warehouses store rows and rows of containers in parking lots and it can take up to 10 days to collect a shipment. Delivery trucks often stand in line for hours waiting to be loaded and some local carriers refuse to get cargo from some airlines.
The situation is so bad that a 3PL is essentially orchestrating heists of its own freight.
âWe’ll literally bring a truck from our facility with a forklift in the back, with about six or seven guys, and we’ll basically pay our way to find our freight, break it down, and use the forklift to load the trailers out. the, âa senior company official told FreightWaves on condition of anonymity.
Teams must scour the ground to find the pallets and boxes, some of which are originally marked with glowing stickers.
âWhen you pay people cash, they let you do it. It’s the only way to get your freight, âhe said.
Freight volume by weight at O’Hare increased 14.8% in 2020 to over 2 million metric tonnes and cargo flights increased 25% to 30,399, according to the Aviation Department of Chicago. International imports carried by wide-body aircraft have grown much more at Chicago, a major freight hub in the center of the country, than at other major gateways.
The flow of goods has not slowed this year. Other airports are also experiencing freight congestion, but none to the same degree as O’Hare. The airport saw a 17.8% year-over-year increase in international all-cargo flights through June, with international cargo volume climbing 46% to 871,000 metric tonnes.
Evan Rosen, president of the Americas for EFL Global, called air cargo logistics at Chicago O’Hare a “disaster,” pointing to huge warehouses that only have a handful of dockworkers to sort the goods and load them on to. trucks. âWe have stuff that’s been stuck for six weeks and we’re still trying to find it in some of these facilities. People pay $ 9 to $ 10 a kilo [for air because itâs supposed to be faster] and six weeks later, I still can’t find their freight.
Ground handling companies, which lost scores of employees in layoffs when airline customers sharply cut flight operations and health concerns over COVID, have struggled to rebuild their ranks.
Alliance Ground International, for example, is trying to fill 200 vacancies at its five facilities in and around the airport, Warren Jones, vice president of business development, said in an email message. He expressed hope that the expiration of extended federal unemployment benefits on September 1 will increase the potential labor pool.
Most freight forwarders do not have rescue teams, but do all they can to bypass airport terminals.
A recent practice is for logistics providers to build their own air containers, called unit loading devices (ULDs), with cartons and small pallets rather than offering multiple bulk shipments for the airline to co-load into one container. with other clients. There is a better chance that the cargo will be ready soon after arriving at the destination airport if it is consolidated into a single ULD, as the ground handling agents who manage the airside facilities do not have to. no need to break down piles and sort individual shipments.
Kuehne + Nagel, the world’s largest air freight forwarder, checks entire ULDs bound for Chicago so they can be picked up by a trucking supplier with just a day or two late, said Edward DeMartini, vice President of Air Logistics Development for North America, in a recent video update for customers.
âWe no longer ship anything to Chicago that is not a full ULD of EFL freight. We will no longer be offering bulk cargo to an original airline so they can build my cargo with mixed pallets because those are the things that just don’t move, âRosen said.
The average cost per kilogram increases if a 3PL doesn’t completely fill a leased ULD, “but at the end of the day I can’t have cargo sitting in the airlines for two months waiting to pick it up”, did he declare. noted.
Having ULDs controlled by shippers also makes it easier for logistics providers to bypass airport warehouses. Several freight forwarders, including San Francisco-based Flexport and EFL Global, use local transportation providers who have special permission to drive onto the tarmac and load ULDs directly onto low-bed trucks with roller beds. Both companies have bonded facilities very close to the airport which can handle large, heavy pallets.
âThe solution here is to bypass those terminals, take the cargo straight from the plane and move it to your own cargo cargo station to do the blackout,â said Neel Jones Shah, executive vice president and head of Air Freight from Flexport, during a company webinar in late July.
Flexport, he said, also plans to add additional capacity to its dedicated charter network operated by Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW) and is considering alternative airports that are not congested. As previously reported, German logistics companies DB Schenker and Senator International earlier this year established freight stations at nearby Chicago Rockford International Airport and are diverting their own cargo ships there.
EFL, a large user of aircraft leased to transport customer shipments, sends numerous flights to Rickenbacker International Airport, a cargo-only airport outside of Columbus, Ohio, which also offers fast transit times for inbound freight.
Even the ground handlers are trying to get out of their own way. Alliance Ground, Maestro International Cargo and Swissport have recently opened import facilities outside the airport where containers are immediately dispatched as soon as they leave the cargo ships. By moving more cargo out of the airport, companies hope to free up space in existing facilities for pharmaceutical, export and other shipments and allow for faster collection of goods.
But so far, according to Rosen and other sources, the facilities haven’t made much of a difference because they don’t have enough workers. Jones acknowledged that the 253,000 square foot building he opened in June has minimal staff.
Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.
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