Weight theft of air cargo

 at ZIA causes nearly Tk. 800m revenue loss to airlines


By Raquib Siddiqi
Aug 21, 2004, 13:57

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Comment:  If the average weight theft is 20%, it stands to reason that some individual aircraft loads will be 30% overweight in real terms and some slightly below claimed (documented weight-bill) weight. Freighters most often fly "bulked out" (volume-wise) but not always. Some percentage of specialist shipments would be weight-limited. In that case they would normally be operated at max gross weight for cost efficiency.

You have to wonder just how many weight-limited cargo flights are taking off grossly overweight - although not necessarily with any significant CofG effects.

The weight and dimensions listed on the airbills for a large number of shipments from Zia International Airport (ZIA) bear little relation to the actual shipment; it is alleged by some cargo trade insiders. It is deliberate, a lot of variation as high as 20 per cent-- of the weight that is on the air bill and what is delivered, they maintained.

According to a conservative estimate, if the weight theft is only 10 per cent instead of 20 per cent as alleged, the airlines are losing Taka nearly 800 million a year and aircraft are facing danger of accident. This huge amount of money is shared by agents and airline and other staff involved in cargo handling at ZIA.

During the year 2002-2003 little over 88,000 tons of cargo or on an average 241 tons daily was exported through ZIA. If weight theft is only 10 per cent instead of 20 per cent as claimed, the volume of stolen weight of cargo amounts to 24.1 tons or 24,100 kg. If loss to the airlines is calculated on the basis of average rate of USD 1.5 per kg, the total comes to USD 36,150 per day. At Tk. 60 to one US dollar, the amount in Taka comes to 2.16 million a day or Taka 788.4 million a year.

The gap between the claimed and real weight of shipments is not uncommon in other parts of the world. Experts say all the sophistication built into the latest equipment to measure, weigh and identify air cargo shipments has done little to solve a problem at the heart of the industry all over the world.

However, in the developed country it is mostly because of combinations of mistakes made under tight time constraints, but in the developing countries it is because darker forces at work.

You have a supposedly valid airbill, the freight gets consolidated on pallets or in containers, and all of a sudden, it weighs more. All the airlines know is that the pallet or container weighs more than it should but they can not tell whose freight is responsible , a source said.

There are some people who obviously take carriers for granted and try to take advantage of them. There is also an inability for all parties to check. The time sequence for air shipments makes that unrealistic. Various sides of the air cargo industry may debate the business issues involved in weighing shipments, but for carriers it is, literally, a matter of life and death.

That was the case for US carrier Fine Air in 2001 when a fully loaded DC-8 crashed at Miami International Airport, killing three people on

 board and two people on the ground. An investigation found the plane was improperly loaded and that shifting cargo during takeoff may have caused the crash.

The Federal Aviation Administration of U.S.A fined the Mexican airline TAESA $160,000 for flying a DC-10-30 freighter from Miami in 1997 some 23,564 pounds - or about 4 percent - over its maximum allowed gross weight.

The Commonwealth of Independent States experienced a spate of plane crashes following the break-up of the Soviet Union and its national carrier, Aeroflot. In some cases, according to news reports, organised criminals had sought to avoid both national and physical laws by forcing pilots to fly overloaded aircraft.

Forwarders and carriers can seldom slow down to check shipment weights because of the nature of air shipping. Persons responsible usually do not re-weigh and re-dim shipments.

And because of the added dimension of dimensional weight - a pound of bricks may weigh the same as a pound of feathers, as the old joke goes, but they still would not fit into the same box - checking the weight of each shipment may be more complicated than running it over a scale if a station does not have the latest equipment.

According to allegations, the problem has assumed epidemic proportion in Bangladesh, where employees of different parties involved have established an "understanding" with shippers to earn extra money. There is no doubt that the calculations are deliberately done to earn share of the profit by the shippers at the cost of revenue of the airline concern and safety of the aircraft.

At Zia International Airport (ZIA) the intentional weight cut is rampant, some people involved with the trade said and added that the persons responsible for preparing Trim Sheet are themselves involved in the racket and regularly producing incorrect trim sheet. They are being aided by lack of adequate facilities. The scales available for cargo shipment are not enough and more often remain defective. Due to faulty calibration, scales meant for weighing pallets display different weight of same parcel if measured more than once, a senior officer of a foreign airline said.

The temptation to gain enormous benefit is so high that persons involved in weight cut do not even ready to consider the question accident risk. Some times back, a large cargo agent in Bangladesh chartered an aircraft and provided the cockpit crew with thoroughly incorrect trim sheet. The weight cut was so huge that the pilot realised the problem after taking-off. He had no alternative but to come back after taking-off and made the agent re-load the aircraft.

The wide-spread practice of weight cut at ZIA is posing serious threat to the safety of aircraft. On many occasions persons were caught for weight cut but all of them were set free, even without warning, it is alleged.

However, concerned authority of Biman Bangladesh Airlines strongly refuted the allegations of weight theft of cargo at ZIA. According to him, during the year between July 2002 and June 2003 little over 88,000 tons of air cargo has been shipped through ZIA. Biman carriered about 28,200 tons, 17 foreign carriers about 48,800 tons and freighters about 11,400 tons. Of the total, 23,000 tons were perishable cargos and rest were dry. Almost all the perishable cargo was lifted by Biman.

Biman maintained that possibility of weight theft of dry cargo is nil as these are charged on volumetric basis. For example shippers are to pay for 650 kg for a shipment of 500 kg dry cargo. The perishable cargo goes through different stages and handled by different persons. Re-weighing is also done on more than one occasion.

However, insiders of cargo trade who are for growth of healthy trade do not subscribe to Biman's view. They alleged that corruption in the sector is so widespread and going it for so long that it has become part of the system. It is rather impossible to improve the situation without drastic measure.

The industry executives say, the introduction of strategic and technical advances made in shipping goods by air are likely to bring welcome change and solve the current problems on the ground.

In the near future, the entire system is expected to be electronic and paperless. The shipper, airline, trucker and forwarder are all involved in this process. The sooner it comes, the better for the industry.

Otherwise, if people out there are regular violators, they have to realize that if they want their freight to move, they must give accurate information or it will just sit on the dock.

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