Messaging was the natural successor for replacing air cargo paper documents. But as a paradigm, does it miss the efficiency afforded by centralized data architectures? Stakeholders across the air cargo supply chain need to embrace a data-centric vision to increase efficiency, accuracy, and control within the industry. 

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, recently stated, “Shippers today want responsive services based on intelligent systems able to self-monitor, send real-time alerts and respond to deviation. Technologically speaking, this is totally possible. The key to this and other innovations is using data efficiently and effectively. Finding solutions to unfulfilled (or even unrealized) expectations creates value for customers. And that propels a business forward."

Understanding the Paradigm Shift

Today, many air cargo carriers still rely heavily on Cargo Interchange Message Procedures (Cargo-IMP), which details electronic messaging standards for all air cargo-related communication (air waybill, flight manifests, etc.). However, in an effort to move to a data-centric paradigm, many carriers are switching to the Cargo Extensible Markup Language (Cargo-XML).

Cargo-XML provides several advantages over the previous format, including easier electronic interchanges, more process automation, better data quality, streamlined processes, and lower costs. Cargo-XML will also help carriers better facilitate the adoption of the industry’s e-Freight initiative.

Of course, this protocol shift can be a complex task that many air cargo carriers may be hesitant to undertake. The shift requires leaders to consider the following:

  • Understand the technological changes needed to handle the new messaging requirements. This can include upgrading cargo management and messaging systems.
  • Plan a detailed timeline to implement the change.
  • Coordinate with partners to ensure they’re ready to handle new messaging requirements.
  • Understand the new field requirements (in some cases, Cargo-XML may require fields that weren’t available on the Cargo-IMP format).
  • Train employees on the new protocol.

The good news is that XML is not a new technology. On the contrary, the standard has been used by a variety of sectors for more than ten years, and has been extensively tested. It also represents a simpler and more flexible format compared to IMP, which should help make the transition process even easier. Producing Air Waybills (AWB) is much less onerous in XML than in IMP, and much easier to make alterations to on the fly. Since XML is already a widely used language, it should also be much easier for IT staff to work with.

Creating Data-Centric Air Cargo Cargo Ecosystems

While air cargo carriers have begun to make the messaging shift on their own, industry leaders have recently called for accelerated modernization and a renewed focus on service quality.  Currently, global penetration of the e-air waybill has reached nearly 50 percent. This call to action is a result of a broader recognition that the air cargo industry is struggling as a whole to move into the digital age. In fact, the industry has essentially broken into two tiers: companies leveraging today’s technology and other “legacy” carriers that still rely on paper records.

The carriers that have progressed with digitization are better able to address today’s industry challenges. Shipping sensitive goods like pharmaceuticals and food, for example, requires temperature-controlled environments and a high level of visibility (and monitoring) that would be impossible to manage without modern technology. Other challenges that can be overcome include reduced shipping times, global logistics, and improved partner visibility, and collaboration.Remember that making the messaging shift to Cargo-XML shouldn’t be treated as an isolated initiative. Air cargo carriers should be making efforts to digitize across the supply chain to improve partner relationships and customer service. Additional efforts could include:

  • Creating a unified data ecosystem that pulls in information from multiple channels
  • Leveraging data-driven decision-making with predictive analytics
  • Analyzing data to create a unified view (and analysis) of supply chain flow

Creating a data-centric air cargo ecosystem requires significant planning and long-term thinking. Nevertheless, the results are well-worth the effort, which includes streamlined operations, improved decision-making, and lower costs. For many air cargo players, moving beyond the messaging paradigm is a positive first step.


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