We’ve talked before in this blog about the importance of our industry embracing digitisation. As a sector, air cargo has lagged behind when it comes to technological innovation – and in a business that is so dependent on complex processes this is a reluctance that is threatening to hold us back. A single shipment can produce over 30 different pieces of paper – clogging the system, wasting resources and creating a huge opportunity for human error to creep in.
An ambitious goal
IATA’s 100 per cent e-freight vision has been a real focal point for those of us in the industry who are keen to increase the amount of digitisation in our systems and processes. The e-freight vision is to eliminate paper from a wide range of points in the shipment journey, and the introduction of e-airway bills (e-AWB) has got off to an impressive start. Usage finally broke the 50% mark back in June – but it still remains a long way off IATA’s 62% target for this year.
Benefits for all
A recent session, hosted by IATA’s Cargo Network Services (CNS) in Seattle, was an encouraging development however. The event featured a number of speakers who talked about the benefits of switching to e-AWB, even for smaller and medium-sized operators – the big message was that the benefits of better customer experience, improved data and less costs associated with couriering paper documents mean that e-AWB makes sense for most.
The event also came on the back of news that both Seattle and San Francisco airports will be adopting e-AWB as their preferred method of shipping air cargo in the near future.
The right course
Ignazio Coraci comments: “It’s a really encouraging sign to see how the industry is embracing the e-AWB. We’re still a long way away from the tough targets set by IATA, but the events in Seattle show that we’re heading in the right direction. It’s vital now that as an industry we continue to move towards a more digitised future together, and all the advantages that it will bring.”
It has been a truly impressive start to the year for Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), with growth in traffic right across the board. In terms of air cargo business, HKIA has handled an impressive 2.3 million tonnes of cargo already this year in the first six months to June – that’s up a remarkable 11.3% on the same period last year.
So what has been behind HKIA’s great start to the year – and more importantly, do the experts think it will be sustained? Well, in the latest figures from June, 410,000 tonnes of cargo passed through the airport, up 11.4% on 2016 – and there are indications that a 17% year-on-year increase in June exports from the airport led to the high growth in cargo tonnage for that period. That bump in export figures has certainly contributed then to the airport’s positive performance in the first half of 2017, but HKIA has also benefited from an improved global outlook. And with the Asian markets leading the way in air cargo growth, HKIA is in prime position to take advantage of a global economic performance that is looking positive in terms of consumer and business confidence.
Investing for the future
HKIA isn’t standing still, with work starting last August on a third runway to help accommodate future growth. The airport is also making further investments to ensure it meets the needs of customers.
“On the cargo front, HKIA continues to develop its ability to serve fast-growing segments of the high-value cargo business, such as fresh produce and temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals that require specialised handling,” says an airport spokesperson. “The airport authority and local industry stakeholders are working closely together to pursue the IATA Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (CEIV Pharma) accreditation on airport community basis and HKIA is expected to be recognised as an IATA CEIV Pharma Partner Airport by the third quarter in 2017.”
A sustainable future
Ignazio Coraci comments: “Clearly Hong Kong is an important site for both our ASC Cargo and SW Italia businesses, and so the news that air freight handling is continuing to grow there is great to hear. I’m also really encouraged by the investment in infrastructure that is being made at HKIA – it will go a long way towards making sure that the performance we’ve seen so far this year is sustained.”
Our industry celebrated a quiet yet potentially very important milestone recently: in April, Electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB) penetration finally passed 50%. Figures released by IATA suggest that the industry processed more than 730,000 of the digital documents – up 1.3% on March’s figures. There’s still a way to go to hit IATA’s target of 62%, but the achievement is still a significant one.
A paperless future
Before we look at why, it’s worth looking again at the context around the introduction of the Electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB). The electronic documentation effectively replaces its paper counterpart – the Air Waybill (AWB) – which is essentially the contract of carriage agreed between the shipper and the airline. Changing the documentation is a key part of IATA’s industry-wide e-freight programme – which aims to make the entire transportation process for air cargo paperless. The idea is to do this through both regulatory and technological routes – and it’s fair to say that IATA has been extensively pushing the use of e-AWB recently.
When you consider that a single shipment can generate 30 different paper documents, clearly removing paper from this particular part of the process is critical and goes a long way towards achieving IATA’s 100 per cent e-freight vision. Other targets for IATA include eliminating paper document use from customs processes, as well as other transport paperwork and commercial or special cargo documentation.
An impressive start
A number of airlines and freight forwarders had particular cause to celebrate in April – both Kenya Airways and Flydubai used e-AWBs to process all of their air waybills, while Cathay Pacific and Delta Air Lines were not far behind, with 80.5 and 74.7% respectively. And it wasn’t just the airlines – freight forwarders Expeditors processed 69.4% of waybills electronically, while Hellmann Worldwide and Schenker were on 67.9% and 62.5%.
Something to build on
Ignazio Coraci comments: “The industry has made slow but steady progress on reducing the amount of paper created in our processes. It’s now vitally important that we build on this positive start to ensure that the entire system, end-to-end, becomes paperless.”