Presidential posturing

It's not every day that the airfreight and express industry suddenly becomes a key issue in the election of the US president.
COMMENT, Transportation


It's not every day that the airfreight and express industry suddenly becomes a key issue in the election of the most powerful man on earth.

But for DHL and parent company DPWN, the May decision to restructure its US Express business by partnering with competitor UPS over airlift operations has resulted in some very unexpected and high-profile PR.

The move by DHL means that as many as 8000 jobs will be lost at the Wilmington air hub, in south-west Ohio, as operations are set to shift to the UPS facility in Kentucky when the final deal between the two firms is signed. As well as personnel directly employed by DHL, two airfreight operators - ABX Air and ASTAR Air Cargo - which are contracted by the German giant, will see thousands of workers laid off.


For DHL, the move makes sense, given the travails the company has faced in the US domestic market and it also complies with suggestions from the director general of IATA that costs need to be slim-lined and consolidation embraced during tough times for the aviation industry.

However, the announcement understandably raised hackles in Wilmington, which also happens to be located in a 'swing state', just months before the US presidential election in November.

A Republican candidate has never won the presidency without winning Ohio, and the state has voted for the losing nominee on only two occasions since 1892, an event that last occurred in 1960.

Small wonder, therefore, that both presidential candidates have leapt on the bandwagon to decry DHL's decision. From a political perspective, the issue represents free advertising in a state where every vote counts, and John McCain and Barack Obama are striving to outdo each other in their noisy calls for the DPWN chairman to reverse the firm's decision.

But all the showboating does leave rather an unpleasant aftertaste. As a foreign-owned company, DHL is seen as fair game for US politicians, and the verbal barbs smack uncomfortably of jingoism. One wonders whether a US firm in the same position, perhaps with headquarters in another swing state, would face the same level of opprobrium.

Of course, it's only natural that the employees of the Wilmington hub should use every means at their disposal to raise awareness of their plight. But whether executive decisions like these should be examined in the white-hot tussle of a presidential campaign must surely be another matter.

It will be interesting to note whether November's victorious candidate takes such a strong view on the issue when his new term kicks off in January.

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Edward Attwood is the deputy editor of Air Cargo Middle East & India.


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