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Air cargo needs to become easier, smarter, and faster for the future. The 2017 Global Shipper Survey found air cargo customers have an average satisfaction score of 7 out of 10. This isn’t bad, but it was exactly the same in 2015. It’s time to take the next step forward and start doing more for customers to strengthen the air cargo value proposition.

In an effort to transform the industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA)  launched the Simplifying the Business (StB) Cargo program through several initiatives in order embrace digitization to maximize efficiency and service quality across the air cargo supply chain. One of those key projects is 'interactive cargo' which aims at developing real-time interactions and offering customers responsive air cargo services.

As interactive air cargo becomes more prominent, every air cargo carrier needs to adopt a combination of intelligent systems and standard-setting activities. Here’s how interactive cargo works and how it can help:

Modernization

According to IATA, air cargo represents less than 0.5% of industry shipments, but around 2% of time and effort - as per shippers’ experiences when using air to transport their goods. That’s inefficient. And it indicates that air cargo is currently too complex.

Think of interactive cargo as creating a digital conversation across a connected supply chain. The objective is to give customers responsive air cargo services to better meet expectations and allow for data-driven supply chain improvements. From eliminating repetitive data entry and improving self-service to making pickups and drop-offs easier, interactive air cargo modernizes the entire supply chain. It also sets carriers up for the future, a world in which technology like robotics and augmented reality will play an increasingly important role.

Transparency

One of the main goals of interactive air cargo is end-to-end supply chain visibility. Customers should never be uncertain of where their cargo is or when it will arrive. There should also be no concern over damage to shipments (which ends up costing carriers and clients money).

Interactive air cargo enhances transparency by enabling the following:

  • Self-monitor and track cargo pieces
  • Send customers real-time alerts
  • Respond to changes in real-time to satisfy client expectations
  • Provide digital feedback across the supply chain, enabling carriers to proactively implement data-driven improvements

This type of modern, digital supply chain is enabled through wireless technologies, such as sensors and data loggers. This enables piece level tracking, which is the ability to track and manage cargo at the individual piece level, as opposed to using other levels of consolidation such as house bill and master bill tracking.

When it comes to piece level tracking, there's promising news coming from air cargo carriers. For instance, Amerijet has employed GPS-tracking devices to monitor high-value shipments. This ensures improvement in delivery times, cargo protection, and overall customer satisfaction.

Efficiency

IATA’s Cargo StB program strives to create a single industry approach to embracing digitization. Because a commitment to interactive air cargo and digitization of the entire supply chain will ensure processes can be optimized, innovations can occur more effectively, and new technologies can be seamlessly adopted. What this all leads to is much greater efficiency.

Interactive air cargo increases efficiency by doing the following:  

  • Going paperless: It’s time for 100% e-freight and e-AWB solutions.
  • Enabling digital transformation: Interactive air cargo utilizes smart data sharing and simplifies shipments with a single digital shipment record.
  • Making shipments interactive: Welcome to the internet of cargo, where pieces can be individually tracked and monitored with sensors and data loggers.
  • Creating smart facilities: Achieve excellence in air cargo handling with facilities that are built to provide real-time updates on shipments.

Interactive air cargo is not just about equipping cargo pieces with the ability to ‘talk’. Air cargo carriers also need to give their planes, trucks, and facilities the ability to communicate with the cargo. This is leading to the creation of smart air cargo facilities. Many cargo carriers are already making huge investments here.

For example, Finnair opened its Cool Nordic Hub at Helsinki Airport in 2017. This smart hub relies on warehouse automation systems to facilitate cargo flow and get temperature-sensitive shipments moved to the proper areas. Finnair has unified its warehouse operations at its new cargo terminal and has been one of the first carriers to deploy Mercator’s Warehouse App which allows warehouse agents to capture air cargo data through a single mobile interface and achieve full visibility into every stage of the warehouse management process.

Safety and Quality

Increased transparency and efficiency can enable improved air cargo safety and quality. Interactive air cargo gives carriers and logistics companies the ability to see and solve issues in real-time, or proactively. It also automates processes to guarantee all cargo shipments are given the proper attention.

Interactive air cargo can deliver even greater safety and quality. For example, IATA advocates an Air Cargo Incidents Database (ACID) so that cargo carriers can pool safety and operations information and create a data-driven method for anticipating risks and stopping problems before they arise. Of course, in order to protect sensitive data, air cargo carriers should be able to share this info in a de-identified manner, as IATA suggests.

Many airlines are working hard to improve shipment safety and quality through interactive shipments. Air Canada is a good example. The airline has started using RFID sensors to more effectively manage the temperature and humidity of shipments. If airlines start sharing information, as IATA hopes, it will facilitate innovation and the tackling of common pain points in the industry.

Taking the Value of Interactive Cargo Forward

It’s time to overcome old challenges with transparency, efficiency, and quality in air cargo operations. Interactive air cargo is a viable solution, as the relevant technology has arrived and is improving. By enabling digital cargo conversations sooner, air cargo carriers can set themselves up for a successful future. Customers will benefit tremendously. And the entire industry can take a leap forward.


Read more about how air cargo communities can work together to meet the highest quality standards and overcome supply chain challenges.

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