Integrators are taking a bigger share of the traditional airfreight market as airlines struggle to keep pace with their impressive range of simple pricing, IT solutions and better overall service levels, according to Air Menzies International (AMI), one of the world’s largest airfreight wholesalers.

AMI provides wholesale air cargo and express services to some 1,300 freight forwarding and courier companies in the UK and also has operations in Germany, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and China. “I think our business is a meaningful barometer of industry trends and there is no doubt that an increasing number of forwarders are choosing to use the integrator-based services we offer over those provided by scheduled airlines,” said Nigel Moolenaar, General Manager Commercial at AMI.

The volume of business awarded by AMI to integrator suppliers in 2004 rose by more than 25% while AMI’s tonnages with scheduled airlines last year fell by eight per cent, reflecting the shift in customers’ buying habits.

AMI is now a multi-million dollar customer of integrators such as FedEx, DHL and TNT. While airfreight shipments into Europe were down 16% in terms of tonnage in 2004, AMI saw its Eurotrux time definite door-to-door product that utilizes TNT’s services grow five-fold.

Moolenaar continues, “As a neutral wholesale we give our customers a choice of services to over 1,000 destinations worldwide, including airport-to-door, time definite road deliveries in Europe, premium express and same day air. We saw a significant migration from traditional airfreight to integrated services in 2004 and this trend is continuing this year.

“Our customers are switching traffic to integrated services because they offer more value-adding products, especially at lower weights. The integrators’ simple pricing is another big attraction with fewer cost elements and one rate per country or zone.”

Pricing isn’t the only reason why AMI’s forwarding and express customers are opting for integrator services. Performance levels are generally higher, according to Moolenaar, with greater reliability for to-door shipments, better service recovery, quicker customs clearance and superior IT solutions in the form of information flow on track and trace and PODs.

“The integrators want our custom and they’re earning more and more of it. Some scheduled airlines are certainly responding to the integrators’ challenge, notably those with time definite and express products, but even these are constrained by network limitations, poor customer-facing IT solutions, limited control over what happens on the ground and very complicated pricing. Today, we offer our customers services based on the use of three major integrators and over 100 carriers and, using our new in-house quality management system, we will be monitoring them even more closely and continue to support those that are performing to our service expectations.

“To regain lost ground, airlines need comparable customer IT solutions that facilitate bookings and track and trace transactions. They also need simpler and more stable pricing structures. The integrators have proved this can be done through serious customer focus,” Moolenaar added.

AMI has put a series of solutions in place to help protect the volume of business it gives to scheduled airlines. These include the provision of web bookings and track and trace services, low rates using pre-booked capacity, automatic post flight and POD information by email and accurate billing through automated booking confirmations that detail a breakdown of all cost elements.

Moolenaar says, “We do work closely with many carriers on a variety of initiatives to improve their service offering for our customers. However, the fact remains that it is ultimately our customers that decide which services they use and it is difficult for them to ignore all the advantages the integrators have to offer.”