Traditionally there are two options to choose from in international goods transport: sea freight and air freight. But now shippers are beginning to consider a combined service called Sea Air Shipments. Here we consider the merits of this combined freight service.
Numerous factors apply when considering air freight and sea freight.
Both modes of transport have their advantages and disadvantages. So is it possible that sea air shipments combine the best of both options?
Air freight, for example, has the advantage of speed over sea freight, but it also tends to be more expensive. Perhaps sea air shipments can be better value than normal air freight, yet faster than sea freight? From a theoretical point of view, sea/air should split the difference between the two most important forms of international shipping.
But when it comes to its actual implementation, it is not quite so easy to say that the costs would be halfway between the prices for sea and air transport. The same applies for the transport time. This is not simply the mean between the sea freight and air freight times.
The complication of the transfer of goods from one transport carrier to another must be considered as an additional difficulty for combined sea air shipments. International forwarding already includes the transport of goods between carriers, including trucks and train and then on to ships or planes. Of course those who have so far imported or exported goods in standard ship containers will probably find sea air shipments much more complicated, in terms of the steps to be taken, than a system of trucks, rail and container ships which are set up for the simple movement of 20 and 40 FEU units.
Shippers who are looking for reliability use sea air shipping to avoid delays.
Delays are definitely a big problem that arises in international shipping. The weather and the swell of the sea play less of a role here, as these elements are safely managed by the large container ships. Congestion at the seaports are far more likely to lead to delays. There were significant delays. For example: through congestion at the ports on the US west coast during the ILWU contract negotiations in 2014-15 or the congestion in the Shanghai Yangshen Port, just after the restructuring of the Carrier Alliance.
Reliability and promptness are important factors when deciding why shippers choose air freight over sea freight. Air freight generally has an advantage in both categories and shippers are often willing to pay more for these advantages.
It is no surprise that any failures in the provision of speed and reliability – that shippers expect from air freight – would induce importers and exporters to look for other options.
Sea air shipments are a relatively new way to drive international shipping forward. First there were some profitability problems. But now it is beginning to become a legitimate option that offers the chance to get an ideal balance of speed and costs between sea freight and air freight. If the costs for air freight from Shanghai are $3 per kilo, sea air shipments could be carried out for around $2.
Sea air shipments to compensate for delays
In many cases sea air shipments are used to compensate for any delays in delivery. If the shippers are a week late in their production, sea/air is a practical option for compensating for the delay without taking on the full air freight costs. Many importers work on a just-in-time basis and do not want the freight to arrive too soon. In these cases sea/air is ideal and is the preferred deployment option.
The combined sea/air transport times from Asia to Europe take 10-12 days, while they could take 13-15 days from the Far East via Dubai.
As the sea/air options develop further in terms of availability, reliability and profitability, this can have a considerable impact on the choice of freight that shippers make.
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