As a niche but essential part of the air cargo industry, the role of a cargo charter broker is diverse and fast-moving.
The expectation on air cargo charter brokers is to deliver instant solutions – and to excel in this occupation an individual needs to be flexible and quick-thinking.
More than matching cargo and customer’s requirements to the right cargo aircraft, a charter broker has a myriad of considerations to cover before offering the best solutions, and the real challenges only begin upon securing a fixture.
After selecting the most suitable aircraft to fit both the cargo and customer’s budget, the broker needs to secure all necessary permits in time and thoroughly check that all documentations and arrangements are in place – a missed deadline or an overlooked detail can result in a broker’s worst nightmare.
Beyond contingency planning and troubleshooting, a good air cargo charter broker will always be asking themselves how they can operate this charter faster and more cost-efficient than the competitors.
Anton Lomakin, Chapman Freeborn’s senior charter manager based in Singapore, started his career in the air cargo charter industry back in 1999 at Volga Dnepr Airlines.
He has now been at the world’s leading aircraft charter company for over eight years, and summarises his role as an air cargo charter broker with a popular saying: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Lomakin believes you have to be equipped with three essential qualities to be an air cargo charter broker: flexibility, efficiency and knowledge.
Once during an operation to move a piece of urgent outsize cargo from Johor Bahru to Pointe Noir, Lomakin’s technical expertise was utilised by the client to design and manufacture a specialised transport sledge so an outsize piece could be loaded into a particular freighter – saving time and more than US $500,000 for the client on alternative cargo charter options.
Lomakin’s engineering background has served him very well at Chapman Freeborn, especially when he needs to propose innovative ideas to handling agents on how to manage exceptionally outsize air cargo.
“It is important to think outside-the-box with a can-do attitude,” says Lomakin. He shares that sometimes his work requires his personal involvement with various authorities; at other times he acts as an essential medium between handling agents and Russian load crews, bridging language and communication barriers.
Recounting one of the most memorable charter operations when he went an extra mile for the client, Lomakin shares, “recently this year, we had an incident when a client’s contractor mishandled cargo. The cargo, weighing nearly 10-tons and over 12-metre long joints, was delivered to the airport five hours before flight departure unsuitably packed for the flight.”
The load-master completely rejected the cargo. As postponement of charter was not an option, Lomakin immediately made arrangements for an alternative contractor to amend the packaging on the spot, personally negotiating the compromise on the repacking of every unit. “Given the tight deadline, I was walking a fine line in managing the packer’s ability and the load-master’s requirements throughout the night,” says Lomakin. To the client’s relief, the charter departed with just a four-hour delay.
Another unforgettable charter was when a Boeing B747 freighter was grounded due to the captain’s broken seat buckle; “trying to explain the reason for delay to an upset client was unforgettable too”, Lomakin says.
A curious mind would probably wonder what might be the strangest request a seasoned cargo charter broker like Lomakin has ever received. “Once I was asked to land an Antonov AN-124 freighter ‘somewhere’ to use the aircraft as an extravagant sales-hall for a luxury goods fair.” Obviously that was not feasible.
The air charter industry thrives on unexpected events where cargo needs to be transported to a location as quickly as possible and sea, rail or road freight just will not cut it. However, even in the most urgent of times, brokers are not spared from unfortunate situations such as weather, delays or technical malfunctions – this is why a broker must always be prepared with a Plan B, not to mention keeping a cool head in the midst of a storm.
When asked how he responds to a charter crisis, Lomakin replies unequivocally: “It is very important to relieve as much stress of your client as possible by providing information and advice, and options or alternatives to resolve the problem.”
“However, it is essential to have a clear idea of the operation processes so you can prioritise and keep deadlines for all events so that any consequent delays can be avoided,” he adds.
As time is of the essence in this field of business, speed in response time can determine whether you lose or win a business – this is why air charter companies must be available 24/7/365. Around the clock accessibility is vital for international operations and it also projects a second-to-none level of reliability for customers who may have cargo to move at the eleventh hour.
“As Chapman Freeborn has offices in over 30 countries, sometimes you just have to work through the night to help your colleague in another time-zone to resolve a charter crisis or close a fixture,” says Lomakin. Chapman Freeborn is very proud of its dedicated employees and has every right to be so – good teamwork has allowed the company to reap benefits from its unparalleled global presence.
If you have a charter broker as a friend, do not be dismayed when they are always on their phones or busy typing away on their mobile devices – being committed to a job 24/7/365 will certainly affect anyone’s lifestyle.
“Even in everyday life I am used to planning everything with a Plan B in mind,” Lomakin says. Blissfully married with two beautiful children, Lomakin emphasises the need to have an understanding family.
“It is a big deal to me that no one is frustrated or annoyed when hubby / daddy suddenly disappears in the middle of a celebration with his phone,” he adds.
There was once a female broker from Chapman Freeborn Singapore who was so passionate about her work that she had a difficulty resting her Blackberry, or herself for the matter; after weighing her priorities in life, she decided to retire with her very-happy-husband’s full support.
There are occupations where people can do mundanely for a living, but as far as being a charter broker is concerned, it is either a love or hate relationship.
Reporting Gwen Goh, Chapman Freeborn