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xmlMany airline cargo departments are in the process of converting their systems from the existing Cargo Interchange Message Procedures (Cargo-IMP) format to Cargo Extensible Markup Language (Cargo-XML), the new preferred standard for electronic communications between airlines and other partners in the air cargo sector such as shippers, freight forwarders, ground-handling agents and regulators, as well as customs and security agencies. The new format has been endorsed by organizations such as the Cargo Committee, Cargo Services, and Cargo Agency Conferences, and supports multimodal and cross-border messaging.

The objective of the new standard is to facilitate cargo business processes, fulfill customs requirements for Advanced Cargo Information (ACI) filing, and comply with security regulations like e-CSD. 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 airlines better facilitate the adoption of the industry’s e-Freight initiative.

Nevertheless, many cargo departments have not yet made the transition. Switching from Cargo-IMP to Cargo-XML can be an understandably daunting task, requiring the coordination of multiple departments and a significant reconfiguring of enterprise data infrastructure. But it is important for airlines that have not yet made the leap to begin doing so in the not-too-distant future, as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will no longer be updating the older standard as it shifts to XML.

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.

Even better, since XML is more flexible than IMP, converting documents from the older format to the newer one is easy. While Cargo-IMP was limited to an ASCII 7 bit data set, Cargo-XML supports the much larger Extended UTF-8 character. As a result, XML will support all characters currently supported by an IMP document. XML documents are also allowed to be of unlimited size, which means they can accommodate documents written in the more restrictive IMP format, which only permitted 3500 characters. All commonly used information in the CARGO-IMP messages is also available in the equivalent Cargo-XML messages.

However, that does not mean that airlines can simply import IMP documents into their new XML system without giving the process a second thought. The Cargo-XML standard supports more information than Cargo-IMP documents. In some cases, the additional information found in an XML air waybill may be mandatory, despite the fact that the original IMP document has no data related to the field. This may make it more difficult for some airlines to quickly convert existing documents into the new format.

Fortunately, Cargo-XML does provide help in making the transition. All of the mandatory fields are filled in with pre-selected values, even if that information was not originally in the IMP document. While this ensures that all Cargo-XML documents that have been up-converted from IMP records are viable, airlines should still have processes in place to review the newly converted XML files to make sure the preselected values are appropriate and, if not, be prepared to change them.

The difference between the more flexible, expansive XML format and the older IMP format is yet another reason airlines should consider moving to the new standard as soon as possible. Cargo departments should make sure to upgrade both their Cargo Management and Messaging systems to ensure that they can handle the additional fields contained in Cargo-XML documents. Otherwise, airlines run the risk of losing crucial data. As more and more airlines move to XML, the case for making the transition only becomes stronger.


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