Plans of Lufthansa, Emirates and Korean Air to base surcharges on the weight of consignments have aroused protests from the European Shipper Council (ESC), reports London's Loadstar.
"This is about the airlines looking at a way of making more money. All we have to do is to try to recover the cost from the customer, and in this environment, it's extremely difficult," said ESC air freight chief Joost van Doesburg.
"The airlines clearly think they can do it, and if Emirates and Lufthansa are doing it everyone will follow; they are market leaders," he said.
But carriers said the measure is intended to simplify the system, and not raise revenue. "It is not the goal to make money. There will be an impact, but it will benefit some shippers and not others. But you won't hear from the ones it benefits," a carrier source told Loadstar.
Lufthansa is to introduce a chargeable weight system at the start of its winter schedule, Korean Air will do the same from September on all shipments out of Europe, while Emirates will apply the new mechanism to both fuel and security surcharges from September.
Said Mr Van Doesburg: "Because airlines have been fined for illegal price-fixing on surcharges, shippers are always concerned about them. A surcharge is the one thing that is not negotiable."
Chargeable weights are already used in many parts of the world, including India, and according to one airline source, it is a legal requirement in some Asian countries. Introducing it across a whole network simplifies the process, said the carrier source.
But Mr van Doesburg argued that the change in mechanism would break the tripartite contracts many shippers have with forwarders and airlines. "They can agree on rates, not on surcharges. But if airlines increase surcharges by changing the mechanism, this is a violation of the tripartite agreement," he said.