“Technology acceptance is a mindset that is evolving”

In an exclusive interview with The STAT Trade Times Edip Pektas, the founder of Airblox hinted at an impending financial product that will offer speedier and more cost-effective payment options.

“Technology acceptance is a mindset that is evolving”
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Airblox launched in 2022 with an aim to create and exchange electronic block space agreements (eBSAs) between airlines and freight forwarders and make the platform the future of air cargo.

Pektas discussed the company's ambitious aim to change the logistics business with its innovative financial platform. Airblox, a relatively new player in the field, has already made significant headway and is expanding relationships by bridging the gap between financial markets and the logistics business.

The platform recently welcomed Neel Jones Shah to the Airblox board. Shah comes with a wealth of experience as an Executive Vice President, Airfreight Strategy and Carrier Development at Flexport, senior advisor at Boston Consulting Group, member of the board of trustees at TIACA, board of directors at Amerijet and Global K9 Protection Group.

Shah highlighted the platform's ability to establish a marketplace that benefits not only major players but also midsize forwarders, shippers, and airlines in the interview. Shah's considerable expertise in the aviation freight sector adds great depth to Airblox's aim of bringing both parties together under one umbrella. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

You often mention that Airblox will boost access to financing by connecting the financial markets with the logistics industry. Could you shed some light on this?
Pektas: Many of our freight forwarders who have financial needs have access to our financial service providers such as tech lenders and tech-based insurance providers. Our value offer to the airline is that Airblox will pay your bill directly. If a freight forwarder comes to us, we can solidify the demand for that specific channel and receive a greater price. We act as a middleman, providing better pricing for freight forwarders, and we pay the airline on the date of departure or earlier, depending on our payment terms, then our lenders provide financing to the freight forwarders who have committed to that contract.

Who are your partners for the financial platform and what are your other projects that you are focused on?
Pektas: We have a few partners in the United States, and we are working to expand these services beyond Latin America and Southeast Asia as well. The second financial product that we are now developing is one in which the parties will pay each other with no cost associated and the payments will be done in a fraction of the time. This is something that we have been working on for a while, and when we are ready to unleash it, it will be our most significant technological contribution to the industry.

Neel Jonesh Shah was recently appointed to the board of directors of Airblox. Please explain your strategy for having Shah on the board.
Pektas: Neel has a unique understanding of the aviation freight industry. His former experience with airlines, as well as his present role with Flexport, adds a huge level of depth to what Airblox is attempting to accomplish, which is to link both sides under a single marketplace framework. We are really pleased that he has accepted the role, and we feel he will offer a lot of value in the coming months.

“The second financial product that we are now developing is one in which the parties will pay each other with no cost associated and the payments will be done in fraction of the time”

Edip Pektas

Neel please tell us what attracted you to be a part of this fintech platform?
Shah: Edip and I have known each other for a long time, which is fantastic since you need to be comfortable with each other before entering into such arrangements. One of the things that drew me to Airblox was the fact that it is not a counterfeit platform. They have a clear vision of where they want to go, which is greatly needed, and it allows midsize forwarders, shippers, and airlines to carry out business together, which benefits not just the major players but to everyone. Airblox is an incredible platform for forwarders and airlines to connect on long-term capacity needs, something no other platform does effectively.

What is your aim with Airblox and how is it going to help meet the platform's objectives?
Shah: The chance to get the relevant people and decision-makers on both the forwarding and airline sides and to assist speed on our decision-making. My goal will be to get Airblox into the hands of the right people. Since Edip and his team have done an incredible job, this platform has developed significantly over the last year. Edip has put together a fantastic team, and I can add to it because I understand the arguments that will be made, particularly on the freight forwarding side, and where we can find common ground to really drive development in the coming months. That is the strategy!

Airblox has been in this industry for over a year now and how has your experience been so far? What are the changes that you have seen in the industry? Any changes in the consumer behavior or in demand?
Petkas: I have been in the industry for five to six years on a completely different side, and transitioning into sales has been a huge learning curve for me. It is trying to understand how capacity is seen, then thought through and marketed, as well as the digital transformation that every firm is attempting to do, and it's a roller coaster ride right now.

I am glad to see that everyone is aware that they need to digitise their processes and implement a platform or some type of software solution to eliminate paperwork, phone calls, and text messages, and then simply pure marketplace structure is what everyone wants. Acceptance of technology is a mindset that has changed or is in the process of changing.

Edip you deal with freight forwarders and airlines directly. What are your challenges there with both these buyers and the sellers? And how are you trying to overcome them?
Pektas: The most challenging is that many of them are unfamiliar with the area. On the freight forwarders side, it is similar to the chronology of 'I don't want you to where have you been till now'. One of the main benefits that airlines perceive is the transparency and data that they don't have access to right now or that is delayed data. At Airblox, we collect data from numerous sources in addition to our own, allowing us to give improved decision-making, which is very beneficial to revenue managers.

How do you see the future of the air freight market?
Shah: For the past 25 years, we have been discussing the future of the air freight business, but unfortunately, we never seem to get there. I believe it is different from what it was about ten years ago. I see these digital technologies finally gaining momentum and traction. Many airlines have begun to invest in their own systems, transforming their platforms from indigenous to cloud-based API-focused systems. Platforms like IBS and Wipro are altering the way airlines do business. The goal is now to make it easier for them to conduct business with firms like Airblox, while ten years ago, very few airlines could even take advantage of what Airblox is offering.

What we really need to do is get IBSs and Wipros to incorporate connections into platforms like Airblox, because if you do not, you are cutting off a sales channel for customers, which isn't a good thing. You must include this in your platforms so that airlines may engage in commercial operations. I believe it is crucial, and I want to take advantage of my position on the board to emphasize that point.

“What we really need to do is get IBSs and Wipros to incorporate connection into platforms like Airblox, because if you don't, you are cutting off a sales channel for customers and I want to take advantage of my position on the board to emphasize that point”

Neel Jones Shah

Will technological advancement obviate the need for human engagement in the air cargo industry?
Shah: We will never be able to escape human interaction in our industry. Human connection is really important in this industry, and I am not advocating that this business eliminates human interaction because it is not the most recent business model; it is a B2B business. It will always be a B2B business, and we know that we cannot have a personal business-to-business connection with every customer with whom you wish to do business. It is impossible because there are thousands of prospective consumers, but you only have a small salesforce to contact with them and this is how you can enable it. I am looking forward to technology that truly facilitates and enables this to occur, and that delivers on its promises.

Airblox believes to be the futures market. What are your goals for the next 5 years?
Pektas: We are collaborating with a variety of capital market partners to create Airblox the futures market. We intend to involve the capital markets in a much more organized manner by standardizing contracts, allowing everyone to understand what a cargo block is. That remains our objective. But, in order to get there, we need to bring the platform's major partners, freight forwarders and airlines, together.

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