“One common platform and a holistic approach is the ACAAI’s agenda”
The man who has always been seen enthusiastic, cheerful and positive in the air cargo fraternity, who has been seen taking endeavours to bring in key issues on the table for the betterment of the industry, Sunil Arora, has the same approach with his new position as the President of Air Cargo Agents Association of India (ACAAI). He has well structured, well planned strategies to create a bridge between industry stakeholders and the government and custodians. He believes in one common platform to take up industry’s concerns to the government, he shared elaborately with Jasleen Kaur from APACE DIGITAL CARGO in an exclusive interview. And giving it a further boost, ACAAI, under his presidentship, is all set for the upcoming convention in Phuket with the agenda – “End to End Logistics: The Way Forward”.
To begin with, please share your association with ACAAI. And what are key responsibilities being president of the association?
My journey with ACAAI is quite long. I have been on-board as the managing committee member since almost 16 years. I joined in 2002-03 and it’s been a long journey. ACAAI president is very prestigious and honourable post, which involves lots of responsibilities on account of the freight forwarding industry, our current office members, custodians, regulators like customs.
We take industry issues to the various ministries. Our parent ministries are Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Commerce & Industries and Ministry of Finance. Ministry of Commerce has now got special secretary (logistics) N Sivasailam, Ministry of Civil Aviation has economic adviser Vandana Aggarwal – who are looking after our major logistics issues. Along with this, we also put up causes and concerns to the various bigger custodians like Greenfield airport managers, cargo terminal operators, be it GMR, GVK or AAICLAS, which is playing a major role as it is taking care of cargo operations of all the airports come under Airports Authority of India (AAI). We not only take up grievances issues but also send observations and comments of the industry on various government policies, earlier it was air cargo policy and now it is new National Logistics Policy. The draft is already there and soon we are expecting the main policy to come in. So, this is the whole scenario. And this is the ACAAI’s responsibility towards its 650+ member companies.
One of the main responsibilities and the need of the hour is that it is my personal endeavour to coordinate the efforts done by the various associations and organisations in the logistics industry under one common umbrella. It is not that we will bring them under one association but we will bring issues under the one umbrella. Every association is working hard. They are doing great work. But probably my first initiative action would be to bring in all the issues of the industry under one common white paper to the government which we all will sit together and figure out. This is not only freight forwarding industry which will be there, but we will try to involve other associations like CII, truckers’ associations, customs associations, warehouse operators association, FFFAI. We will probably have couple of meetings where we will jot down our issues and present to the ministry under one common agenda.

To strengthen the air cargo scenario, government and airports have a great role to play. So what are your key expectations and demands from them?
Earlier, the first and foremost expectation used to be from the government but now in the last 2-3 years, I would say that the government is more active than us. The government is bringing up policies. They are working 24×7. We have never seen such pace in the government earlier. The government is moving fast and logistics has become a serious affair within the government. After decades, they have realised how important logistics is, in the country. Logistics plays very important role in the EXIM policy of the country so as to bring in huge revenues. Yes so the key endeavour is of the government.
And then comes one of the major concerns, that is to reduce the logistics cost. Currently, it is very high in India as compared to other countries. We are ranging somewhere between 13-14 per cent whereas the best logistics cost in the world is 6-7 per cent. But our realistic target is to achieve 9-10 per cent in the next 3-4 years. We must work on this so as to reduce it 12 times and come in the league of countries where logistics take less time and less cost. We are working very hard on this and for this matter, we have cargo policy in place and soon the logistics policy as I mentioned earlier.
The special thrust has been given on improving tier 2 and 3 cities airports. For the first time, they are coming up with hub development plan. They have already notified AFS policies. So this is all ready and set by the government. But now the implementation will take some time. Favourable economic growth in the optimisation, favourable factors, little rise in the export and import will be prompt and come in place but unfortunately in the last few months, we have seen downfall in the cargo demand-supply situation of the country. The cargo has moved down. The imports have gone down, so as exports. Fiscal deficit has reduced but overall volume of exports and imports have gone down. There has been lack of demand in the western countries of various high priced commodities and various necessities. So there is a shift of the consumption powers of the world. India is primarily the exporting organisation to the western world. So we are totally dependent but I see very optimistic picture in the near future. I anticipate as per the statistics, figures and scenario what we read and see that India is going to bounce back very well. The government is well prepared.

As far as the infrastructure is concerned, with the Greenfield airports, Brownfield airports are too coming in. Though lot of infrastructure has been added, there are some serious requirements at various airports like Chennai and Mumbai and those will be looked after. However, this is not affecting our throughput from the airports but those are challenges. So we look forward to a very favourable support. Otherwise, system support is coming from the government, various platforms are coming up. Faceless custom clearance project has started in Bangalore. We are now in full 24×7 mode of clearance. Other than this, we are bringing in 100 per cent paperless clearance. But it takes time. However, plans, inspirations and thoughts are rightly placed that how soon we will achieve. Endeavour and effort will go on from the industry and ACAAI is putting its best foot forward on this.

The ACAAI convention is all set to begin in Phuket. Could you please throw light on the theme, the agenda? How will it be different from the previous conventions?
The top priority as of now is that we are focussing on our ACAAI convention, which is going to be held in Phuket, Thailand from November 21 to 24, 2019. And this time the theme is also very interesting, which is “End-to-end logistics: The way forward”, because here we are not only talking about freight forwarding, we are talking as a complete arena – right from the origin of the cargo to the delivery of the cargo. So, all various stakeholders in the supply chain management, whosoever come in, we are taking a holistic and macro view of the logistics and we will discuss their issues at the convention this year. We are bringing in very interesting topics for those who are coming first time to the convention. So it is not just connected directly by the name “air cargo” , it is rather connected to “logistics” as most of the air freight forwarding agents are into other modes of supply chain management, be it e-commerce, sea freight, warehousing, IT management and this is all going to be discussed. We are trying to broaden the horizon of activities which we have planned to discuss at this convention.

How do you see the participation?
The ACAAI convention has always seen very good participation. We are expecting around gathering of 250 this time. So this is going to be very interesting convention. We got confirmation of senior airline officials, airline heads, government people and some those seniors who are not from the air cargo sector but sharing of their expertise will add value to this convention.