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Demand for special cargo—like oversized items, dangerous goods, pharmaceuticals, live animals, and other time/temperature sensitive items—is on the rise. For air cargo carriers, this trend presents both challenges and opportunities.

Air cargo communities (associations of forwarders, carriers, handlers, and airport operators) could be an essential tool for managing the unique challenges posed by the need to transport special cargo. That’s because forging close ties with partners in an air cargo ecosystem is the best way to ensure quality control and respond to unanticipated problems in real time.

That may be why speakers at the Air Cargo Europe Conference called for an industry-wide platform that would help reduce inefficiencies in the supply chain. While experts at the conference admitted that such a wide-scale implementation might be difficult, incremental progress is already occurring.

How Air Cargo Communities Add Value

Global Air Cargo and All Nippon Airways introduced additional flights between Chicago and Tokyo in 2013, leading to an increase in capacity for freight forwarders. About the development, Global Air Cargo CEO Adrien Thominet said, “We are proud to represent ANA in New York and Chicago and we know its fast-growing route network and frequencies will quickly gain the support of the air cargo communities in both cities.”

This statement underscores the importance of air cargo communities for connecting forwarders, carriers, handlers, and operators. But how exactly do the communities work? And how do they help solve problems?

In 2015, WorldCargo, Cargologic, and SATS signed a memorandum of understanding, “to facilitate exchange and mutual learning between the respective air cargo communities of Singapore and Switzerland.” The landmark deal had an eye on using communication and exchange in order to reduce handling times, improve transparency, and lead to innovation.

This type of exchange is particularly important for special cargo, which is subject to various legal obstacles and can therefore be easily held up by logistical hurdles. Improved communication through an MOU can keep all levels informed and updated about special requirements, temperatures, and timelines for items in each shipment.

Rising in Importance

Multi-modal cargo only functions because it’s part of a community system. As such, it has an effect on so many other fields, among them airlines, shipping lines, importers, exporters, and the people who run these operations. More and more, there is a need to unite all of these entities under an electronic data interchange (EDI).

Air cargo communities are important because they are simultaneously the most efficient and most responsible way to ensure compliance, reliability, speed, and transparency. The digitization of air cargo communities will cut down on duplicated data, reduce the currently burdensome amount of paperwork, and unify automation tools so that different members will be able to interface seamlessly. This is not just a bonus for regulators and compliance officers in search of transparency and ease of access. Seamless interactions will reduce logistics costs for the carriers as well.

Tearing Down Roadblocks

At an April 2017 panel discussion in Shanghai titled Cargo Facts Asia, discussants were asked which element of the supply chain caused the most hiccups. A consensus emerged that ground handlers were the major sticking point, and that air cargo communities are the optimal way to improve the carrier-handler-forwarder relationship.

To this end, Air Cargo Belgium recently launched a new platform called “BRUCloud” to address these inefficiencies by improving communication and information sharing within the air cargo community. Air Cargo Belgium claims that the slot-booking application will reduce idling at handler facilities. A dashboard version of the system has been live since 2015, and has had success with special cargo such as pharmaceuticals.

Miami International Airport’s pharmaceutical shipments have grown by 140% in 7 years. But this growth hasn’t occurred without elbow grease. Communities have arisen to facilitate interactions between carriers, handlers, and forwarders involved in transporting this special cargo.

In April 2017, Miami International Airport Pharma Hub associate LATAM Cargo received pharmaceutical certification from IATA called the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV). Miami and Brussels airports are the first airports to be designated as pharma freight hubs by IATA.

The two airports combined forces in October 2016 to create Pharma.Aero, an association aimed at improving collaboration between operators, shippers, and CEIV cargo communities. The association now has six participating airports, including those in Singapore, Mumbai, and Brussels.  

Read more about how air cargo facilities are transforming to facilitate digital supply chains and enable value creation.

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