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This March, the 11th Annual World Cargo Symposium will take place in Abu Dhabi. With one of this year’s themes - Cargo Facility of the Future - the conference will cover some exciting topics, ranging from the future role of cargo facilities to how technologies like wearables and augmented reality can transform the industry.

It may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but these technological advancements represent a major leap forward for the industry. Air cargo carriers are already innovating their processes to accommodate this new technology, while others are still experimenting with how to best implement them.  

Which technologies fit best with air cargo? What steps have some carriers already taken? Today we’re going to examine these questions and see what the future can hold for air cargo facilities.

Today’s Air Cargo Facilities Preparing for Tomorrow

Overall, a few trends have emerged that you should look out for, including:

  • Intelligent warehousing

  • Flexibility for e-commerce shippers

  • Using data to drive decision-making

It’s important to note that air cargo carriers can’t accomplish these goals alone: they must continue to work with airports to ensure both parties can benefit from this next-gen technology.

Company Spotlight: Finnair

Last summer, Finnair selected HUB Logistics as the terminal operator for its upcoming Cool Nordic hub (a.k.a. COOL terminal). The hub, set to open this May at Helsinki airport, is a great example of how technology can create a tailored air cargo experience.

The COOL terminal includes two temperature-controlled zones, one for pharmaceuticals and the other for perishables, and is part of a larger cargo facility that includes a 269,000 square foot handling area for general cargo.

From a technological standpoint, the facility will rely on storage automation systems for cargo flows, transit traffic in particular. All company elements, from airport transfers to forklifts, will be managed within a single product management system for maximum efficiency.

Company Spotlight: Air France-KLM Cargo

While Finnair’s air cargo facility is still a few months from opening its doors, last August Air France-KLM Cargo opened a new facility at JFK International Airport in New York City. The new facility can handle all types cargo, from live animals to pharmaceuticals.

Similar to the COOL terminal, this facility includes cool-chain storage areas. The facility’s strongroom is used for valuable cargo, while the ARK area offers boarding and veterinary services for live animals.

The above examples share one thing in common: despite their larger sizes, they’re all designed to increase efficiency while also handling larger shipment volumes. In other words, our society is becoming more reliant on customized and speedy delivery services. Air cargo facilities need to address both these issues to remain competitive.

How Technology is Increasing Visibility

The entire air cargo industry is shifting because of increasing visibility that’s available due to newer technologies. In particular, the Internet of Things (IoT) involves devices that are able to communicate to each other and provide detailed data unlike ever before. How can air cargo leverage the IoT for the future?

Company Spotlight: Air Canada

In many ways, air cargo carriers have already started looking ahead, including Air Canada. The carrier deployed integrated humidity and temperature RFID sensors in its air cargo shipments.

Born out of the need to streamline labeling between shippers, improve the customer experience, and increase efficiency, RFID sensors have helped Air Canada in many areas. Employees no longer have to handwrite eight-digit codes for every item shipped. In facilities where RFID tracking tools aren’t available, added barcodes are used to keep shipment processing moving smoothly.

RFID sensors capture temperature and humidity information to make it easier for shippers to identify one-time issues or trends along certain routes. For routes more prone to issues, Air Canada can either add provisions or change the route. In both cases, the customer benefits from increased efficiency and the company benefits from reduced accident costs.

Simply put, the data provided by these sensors make for better decision-making. Automation and efficiency are important to cargo carriers, and it’s the data that makes them so.

Of course, streamlined system management and increased visibility are only a couple options in store for the industry’s future. Let’s look at augmented reality (AR), for example. While AR is mostly focused on gaming, there’s potential for air cargo to enhance their supply chains. Imagine heads-up displays where employees can see appropriate loading instructions for each package.

Approaching Air Cargo’s Future

Yes, technology will be what shapes the industry’s future, but only because we still have problems we want to be solved. Customers want packages delivered as fast as possible. Businesses want visibility into every item in every shipment. It’s from this point of view that we should always start the discussion about the future of air cargo. Only then can we create leverage tomorrow’s technology in the best ways possible. There’s no reason not to be optimistic about the future of our industry.


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