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A Brief History of Sea-Air Transportation

‘Sea-Air' transportation is not new.


Multimodal transportation (i.e. two or more modes) has been in existence since trade began.


The 1960's saw the start of mass-market sea-air operations on two routes; Japan to Europe via North America and India to Europe via the UAE.


At that time ocean vessels from Japan to Europe were much slower than today and air capacity was limited to 707 and DC8 freighters. Major Japanese manufacturers had to meet European demand for their consumer goods and looked for ways to deliver on time.


Airlines on the North America/Europe trade were also seeking eastbound freight especially from Canada which had little airfreight trade with Europe.


So Japanese goods were shipped to Vancouver and Seattle/Tacoma by sea and trucked to both local and eastern airports for on-carriage to Europe.


Charter airlines flying in supplies to the Middle East to meet the demands of the new oil economies looked for back loads to offset their fuel costs on the return journey. They attracted Indian textile suppliers who were again short of air capacity to ship by sea to the UAE for on-carriage to Europe.


Pricing was an early problem as no airline wished to take on the risk of offering a through rate due to the complexity of bringing ocean and airfreight charging systems together.


Another difficulty for airlines was matching the varying volumes they were able to attract with the finite capacity they were trying to fill. This produced unreliable transit times especially during the peak seasons.


Whilst these two markets varied greatly in their degrees of sophistication and the products being shipped, they were similar in two key respects: -


1. They were both, and still remain, predominantly shipper-controlled.
2. They were 'operated' by airlines whose interest in sea-air was only short-term.


In the following years traffic flows, aircraft types, vessel and aircraft scheduling change and their interest in the sea-air mode of transport waned.


Similar situations continue to arise elsewhere. Airlines flying from Korea and Taiwan often face reduced loads and look to attract sea-air traffic from China. But as soon as airfreight capacity matches demand from these countries, airlines increase rates and customers cease to be interested in the route.


Sea air transportation seemed as though it would always remain a very small percentage of the overall tonnage moving from Asia to Europe. In order that it should develop to its full potential, it had to be in the hands of sea-air carriers who were willing to invest heavily in the continuous development of an infrastructure and be sustainable for many years.


The UAE, centring on Dubai and Sharjah, seemed an ideal area for development. The continued growth of scheduled passenger and all-cargo flights, as well as the numerous aircraft available for charter or contract in the region, would confirm their thinking as correct.


From the start sea air services offered a simple rating system in US Dollars per kilo, similar in structure to airfreight, that covered the through movement from origin port to destination airport. The Combined Transport Document or CTD issued has a similar level of liability to that of an airline's Air Waybill.


Organisations involved in sea air services include some of the world's major forwarders, shipping lines, airlines and multi-national commercial companies as well as many smaller operations. They are all-important and have helped to make sea-air a respected mode of transport.


We hope soon to call you a client!


22 November 2005


Cromac Smith Ltd, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, U.K.
Tel: +44 (0)7933 510572 Email: Web:
Registered in England No: 2416452

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