Smell Test

Smell Test

Copyright 2002, Traffic World Magazine

Before dawn one morning last week I stood at our cabin door at Conesus Lake, one of New York State's Finger Lakes, watching as a skunk rooted through our possessions and discards. Seeking food, he had settled on an empty potato chip bag and had his head inside, licking up any crumbs, salt and vegetable oil he could find.

Outside, Buffalo firefighter Tom Bardo was taking his turn patrolling Camp Stella Maris, where single-parent families like his and mine gather for one week a summer. This is the sixth year that my son Charlie and I have come here to experience hard bunk beds, mess hall food and ferocious mosquitoes.

Though a single parent while I write this, by the time you read it I will be married to a beautiful woman named Tracy Lynn Shaw. The wedding was set for last Saturday near Mount Vernon, Va., with 13-year-old Charlie as my best man. This will be Tracy's first marriage, and it will be my first marriage to her. But back to the skunk.

Stella Maris is not Club Med, which explains why I am waiting for a clear shot to sprint to the military-style latrines at the camp's other side. I ask Tom to clear away the wildlife but he declines. It's not in his job description as camp volunteer. I wait for the skunk to amble off and thankfully the smell test tells me it's all clear.

Back in Washington there is another smell test under way and the outcome is more odiferous. The International Air Transport Association has announced that it is planning substantial changes in the way that air cargo is weighed, measured and priced by its member companies. Shippers and forwarders think it stinks (See Associate Editor Kristin S. Krause's complete report on page 23.)

Airlines have priced shipments two ways: by weight and by dimensional (or volumetric) weight. "Dim weight" factors in the amount of space the shipment occupies. Carriers say that using dim weight prices shipments more fairly, since there is limited space on any aircraft.

For the last 21 years, IATA has used a conversion formula of 6,000 cubic centimeters equaling at least one kilogram, even if the actual weight is less than one kilogram. At a conference early this year, IATA adopted a resolution that will change that formula on Oct. 1 to read 5,000 cubic centimeters equals one kilogram.

The Department of Transportation will have the chance to review the proposed changes and it should take a hard look at this subject.

First of all, the change is entirely too sudden and does not allow shippers and forwarders enough time to study and discuss the changes.

Second, as Airforwarders Association Executive Director David Wirsing says, "It is an unjustified rate increase" of up to 20 percent.

Wirsing also complained that IATA approved the "anti-competitive change" without consulting any shippers or forwarders beforehand. "We like to believe competitive forces prevail as opposed to back-room cartels," he said.

Wirsing's forwarders are not alone on this issue. The National Industrial Transportation League, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Wholesale Florist Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Health and Personal Care Logistics Association and companies such as Intel, IBM and Corning also have opposed the change.

NITL Director of Policy Peter Gatti says one huge problem with the expedited policy is that package designers need time to come to terms with the new rules. The rules offer an incentive to design packaging that is more compact, but it will take time to create and test the new designs.

Gatti also objects to the airlines adopting this change universally under the auspices of IATA rather than making it a competitive factor between airlines. "It doesn't pass the smell test," he said.