Air forwarders slam Customs plan

Air forwarders slam Customs plan

Forwarder Jerome Trimboli says he knows what airlines will do if they gain access to his company's house air waybills, which include confidential data such as what forwarders charge their customers. He says the airlines would use the data to try to sell directly to his customers.

"There's no way in hell I would show a carrier my house air waybill," said Trimboli, a former top airline executive who now is president of Inter-Jet Systems of Jamaica, N.Y.

Trimboli and many other forwarders are uneasy about a Bureau of Customs and Border Protection plan to require carriers to submit house air waybill information to Customs along with their master air waybills. The plan could be especially harmful to small forwarders.

Customs says it needs the details that only house bills can provide. Master air waybills list the forwarders that have cargo on a flight, but they do not provide the detailed information that Customs wants so that it can identify high-risk shipments.

Forwarders fear that the proposed Customs rule, expected to be announced in October, would enable carriers to sell directly to their customers, offering shippers an opportunity to cut out the middleman and get lower rates - but prices that are higher than the forwarder pays the carrier. Most carriers insist that they'd never engage in "back-selling," but many forwarders don't believe them.

The proposed rule stems from provisions in the Trade Act of 2002 that were designed to improve cargo security.

The proposal would require house air waybills to be submitted at least two hours before take-off for exports from the U.S. and four hours before arrival for imports, except for flights from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. The deadline for those areas would be "wheels up" - the time that the plane takes off.

Large forwarders would be able to avoid filing the house air waybill information on imports to the carriers and submit it directly to Customs if they qualify as Automated Broker Interface filers. They could also file directly to Customs if they operate container freight stations or serve as deconsolidators.

Large multinational forwarders such as Kuehne & Nagel could avoid filing manifest information to the carriers because they participate in ABI, a Customs program that permits brokers to file import data electronically. But smaller forwarders would have to provide customer data to their carriers.

While some carriers could use confidential information about shippers to win new business, those that have not yet upgraded their systems to process information electronically would have to hire additional clerks to input the data from forwarders manually.

The proposed rule would take effect 90 days after being announced, giving forwarders and carriers until Jan. 1 to update their systems. Top managers at most forwarders and carriers, however, will be pre-occupied until early December with moving peak-season cargo.

Even some large forwarders are upset with Customs' proposal. Gary Schultheis, vice president-air freight in the Americas for DHL Danzas Air & Ocean, which already files the shipper manifest information directly to Customs, complained that the extra filing would be a duplication of effort.

The Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. air carriers, is pushing Customs to upgrade the automated manifest system for air shipments so that forwarders could input their house air waybill data directly to Customs. But Mike White, director of cargo services for the ATA, said Customs has no plans to do that with the current system.