The Rise of Women in the Industry
In most developed countries, people have taken for granted their ability to receive the everyday goods they depend on without much thought about the ports the goods originate from or the logistics behind the arrival and delivery of cargo via intermodal transport. Whether by land, sea, or air, a major part of the U.S. and the global economy is dependent upon the manufacture and distribution of goods, as well as the access to materials that are needed to produce them. The safe transport of air cargo is a facilitator of trade and the acquisition, warehousing, and transport of cargo. It is a 24/7 business that runs 365 days without pause.
Today, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines and air cargo planes transport over 65.6 million cargo tonnes of goods a year, representing more than 35% of global trade by value but less than 1% of world trade by volume. That is equivalent to $6.8 trillion worth of goods annually or $18.6 billion worth of goods every day. Cargo handling is part of the supply chain which processes goods landside in an air cargo facility. From the delivery of materials at the airport of origin until it is ready for loading on the airplane to the unloading at the destination and handover to the freight forwarder, many steps are involved with cargo handling that must be closely followed to ensure shipments are delivered safely and securely.
New York is one of the major gateways for the air cargo industry, alongside Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles. In the metropolitan region, most air freight comes through JFK International Airport, Newark, and to a lesser degree LaGuardia, which services smaller airlines carrying smaller amounts of cargo.
Air cargo is any product transported or set to be carried in an aircraft. General air cargo is a shipment of an item that does not require special handling but must meet specified requirements and safety aspects. Examples include dry goods, office and sports equipment, household goods, garments, textiles, machinery, hardware, electronics, retail, and consumer goods. Special air cargo is the shipment of items to be transported by air that must meet special handling requirements in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations and the carrier. Goods and materials in this category include perishable goods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, flowers, fish, and seeds, high-value commodities such as precious metals and gems, goods with a very strong odor, live animals that are transported by air, live human organs and human tissue, and diplomatic shipment items.
Air freight are goods shipped by air and transported in a cargo hold. It is transported on dedicated cargo planes and is most often handled through a freight forwarder. Cargo planes move any items that can be bought or sold, or shipped, including packages, letters, cars, construction equipment, horses, and much more.
Today, airplanes serve as a speedy alternative responsible for the transport of millions of parcels a day. As one of the most popular options available to shippers throughout the world, the proportion of air cargo as we know it did not occur overnight. While the movement of goods by sea extends thousands of years back, it is only in the last century that the first practical demonstration of air cargo literally took flight on November 7, 1910, when a Wright Model B airplane made a record-breaking flight, delivering goods from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio.
As reported in the Dayton Herald, “Aviator Phil Parmalee landed in Columbus at 11:50 today, after a continuous 62-mile cross-country flight from Dayton, in a Wright biplane, carrying a consignment of silk from a Dayton firm to the Morehouse-Martens Co. (Department Store). The world’s first freight aeroplane left Huffman Prairie at 10:39 Monday morning carrying five bolts of silk, weighing 47 pounds, consigned to the Morehouse-Martens Co., retail dry goods merchants, Columbus. The biplane left the ground at 10:37 and Parmalee made a semi-circular flight of the field, crossing the eastern fence at exactly 10:39. Orville Wright and sister, Katharine, went out to the field on the 9 o’clock D. S. & U car. The same car brought the five bolts of silk to be transported. The silk, valued at about $800, had been sent from New York to Dayton.”
The plane raced against an express train to see which method of transport could deliver the silk faster and the airplane clearly won the race, demonstrating that air cargo was a viable shipping option. With the bolts of silk delivered by car to and from the airplane, before and after air passage, this shipment was the first example of multi-modal cargo transport in the United States.
After World War II, when larger airplanes became available, cargo operations increased, and all-cargo companies began to spring up. In the 1970s, the introduction of the Boeing 747 prompted a new age of wide-body aircraft, enabling them to carry over double as much freight as the narrow-body airplanes of that time. Hence, the launch of the modern era of air cargo and freight operations began.
Traditionally, the air shipment and logistics sector has been a male-dominated industry, but all one has to do is look back at the very first cargo delivery in 1910 to find that women have had their hand in the business all along, as did Katharine Wright who, accompanied by her brother, Orville, helped transport the carriage of silk sent from New York by car to the airfield at Huffman Prairie (now Wright-Patterson AFB) in Dayton, for delivery to Columbus.
The three main sectors of cargo logistics are air, land, and sea. Innovation across this supply chain offers a variety of opportunities in the domains of shipping, warehousing, multi-modal and regulatory operations, and e-commerce. In all three of these sectors, there has been a rise of women in the industry over the years, particularly in the air cargo sector. One of those women is Dayna Harap, Vice President and co-founder of Direct Expedite, LLC, and the president of the JFK Air Cargo Association.
Harap has been in the air cargo industry for 30 years and has spent nearly her entire career on the trucking side of the air cargo business in various roles, from operations to sales. Her first job in the industry was a part-time position with UPS doing revenue protection, which involved going on an air belt to size up the dimensions of packages. She then worked for a trucking company and has remained in the air cargo industry ever since.
In October of 2019, Harap, who worked with her former boss and his step-daughter at their last company, decided to branch out independently, and together they co-founded Direct Expedite, a freight forwarding company that expedites special time-sensitive cargo. As co-founder, Harap runs the sales division as its lead in, and as the face of the company, she is on call 24/7 overseeing shipments, watching emails, corresponding with her team, communicating with customers, and remediating shipping delays.
In describing the basics of cargo logistics and the supply chain, Harap said, “You could put anything on an airliner, steamship line, or truck. All of them are modes of transportation to move something. Any household item, basically anything you utilize, has been shipped a minimum of three times. Every passenger airplane you’re on has cargo in its belly, any train that you’re on has freight on it in areas that most people don’t know about, and it is constantly moving.” In terms of the trucking side of air cargo, “There’s an old expression on my side of the business stating that if all truckers went on strike for one day, the world would stop. Because it’s a lifeline for everything,” said Harap, “everything and anything you can imagine has been moved within the supply chain channel.”
The JFK Cargo Association was founded in 1958 with a stated goal to educate and serve various air cargo industry components. Members count as airlines, forwarders, sales, consultants, ground handlers, truckers, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
When Harap started in the business 30 years ago, she was one of the first full-time female sales reps for the majority of her years on the air cargo trucking side. Through all the conferences and organizations that she belongs to, and in the over 60-year history of the JFK Cargo Association, she is only the second female president. “There’s no science to it,” she said, “It all just happened. I’ve been fortunate that I was one of the ones mentored by some very open-minded men that never saw gender as an issue. I originally thought I had to fit in and be like them, but once I realized my worth in the industry, it made me more successful just by being true to myself and my values. Today, I’m a female in a 50/50 male-female partnership, with a staff comprised of 63-67% who are women. It wasn’t something we sought out; they were the qualified candidates that we had to fill in the spots of where we are today.”
The women in the industry before Harap were mainly in sales, mostly on the airline’s side of cargo, and were largely the ones who broke ground in the industry. When she started, it was very rare to see a female CFO, president, or volunteer president. Today, women’s growing presence in the air cargo industry is a supply chain solution, with many women pursuing International Business majors in colleges, programs that were not previously out there. Social media has also made a big push for diversity and equal opportunity to start filling in the gender gap. “Women are definitely coming in and doing a lot more and getting more recognition in the industry. I can’t look at it as if I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry; but rather, I’m a woman making a reputation and a name for myself in a very large industry.”
While a disparate percentage of women in the air cargo sector still exists, their numbers are climbing thanks to a new perception and changing technological progressions that require more logical, technical, and organizational skills rather than physical prowess, inspiring more women to pursue a career in an industry that values hard work, reliability, and great dedication.
At last month’s Air Cargo Conference 2023, Danya Harap spoke on a panel about women in the air cargo industry and shared her thoughts on the qualities that are needed to be successful in it, emphasizing, “Be true to yourself, recognize that you can always ask for help, be strong and be open-minded. Communications and organizational skills are a necessity.”
When she left the conference, she noticed that there were more women there than she had ever seen before, and not just women, but people of diverse nationalities. “It was a nice experience to see the diversity that we are growing accustomed to in this industry, that used to be a good old boys club. I think we’ve climbed the corporate ladder because we earned the respect of our peers, be they men or women. There is room for us.”
“I’m proud of the air cargo industry in general and proud of the women in it. We just came out of probably two of the hardest years of being in the business of trying to juggle, witness, and watch other companies and the industry pivot, to go to working remotely when we’ve always been a hands-on industry. To be able to move freight expeditiously and seamlessly in the worse times that we’ve all witnessed in our livelihoods while sometimes being cast in the negative spotlight, I have to give credit to our industry. We’ve done a great job in combination, and being a woman in the industry, we got stuff done. I’m proud to be able to give back, to be able to volunteer, and be the president of the JFK Cargo Association. I’m proud of the growth we’ve all had in general for females, for everybody, for inclusion, and for diversity in the business.” said Harap