Technology in Air Cargo: Innovation is the key

While initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and e-commerce are music to the ears of Indian air cargo fraternity for development in infrastructure and technology, there is a dire need to adopt innovative modern technologies for the better transformation of the air cargo industry. Jasleen Kaur

India has set for itself an ambitious target of increasing the contribution of manufacturing output to 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, from the 16 percent at present. According to a report by Mckinsey & Company, India’s manufacturing sector could touch US$ 1 trillion by 2025. Investments, including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) are likely to increase and many multinationals are placing their bets on India. Top technology firms such as GE, Bosch, Panasonic, Samsung, to name a few, have decided to invest further in electronic, medical, automotive and telecom manufacturing clusters. “We have received 57 investment proposals of over US$ 3.05 billion of which 30 proposals worth US$ 1.04 billion have been approved,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology.
All this is certainly music to the ears of the Indian air cargo sector who despite its best efforts has remained somewhat languished, waiting for the right kind of push. There is a sudden realisation for the creation of technology and how it is an important cog in the wheel of development.
In May 2015, Air cargo industry experts participating in the Unisys Cargo User Group (UCUG) community report stated that disruptive innovations driven by cloud computing collaboration, sensor technology, and digital business are radically transforming the way air cargo organisations work and integrate in the supply-chain. This is creating a fast-growing gap between leaders and laggards. “The air cargo industry is at a tipping point where transformational innovation enabled by modern technologies has become a reality. The most innovative carriers are now data-driven businesses that are responding dynamically to market changes, using cloud, sensors, analytics and digital business. Such organisations are differentiating themselves with speed, control and new value by re-thinking all aspects of their business,” Christopher Shawdon, vice president Logistics Solutions for Unisys said in the report. Unisys is an international technology company.

India’s mission to become tech-savvy
Parvinder Singh, Managing Director, Hans Infomatic said, “The air cargo industry in India has grounds for increasing optimism as the rise in e-commerce and the Make in India programme begin to flourish. Internet penetration is around 17 percent, and it is expected to double by 2016. The Indian air cargo industry seems to be reached at a crucial stage where a fast-track approach to digitalisation is required to keep pace with the global standards.”
“Deployment of technology is another challenge that was hotly debated. Technology simply for the sake of technology has no meaning unless it is part of an overall plan to provide effective solutions and services. Infrastructure, processes and people all have to be integrated and aligned with the customer’s objective. Therefore, Air Cargo Agents Association of India (ACAAI) and Kale Logistics together created an EDI platform UPLIFT which has provided trade members with a single window to exchange data electronically with supply chain partners such as airlines, shippers, chambers of commerce, customs, customs house agents,” said Aman More, Senior Vice President, Kale Logistics. In the UPLIFT platform, the data about shipment is entered only once and then it is reused for creation of documents required by multiple agencies. Furthermore, but this data is also transmitted to multiple agencies via industry standard EDI messages from a single system. This in turn also helps these entities reduce their documentation effort.
Not only private players, but the government carrier Air India is also in the same run to become tech-savvy. Sanjiv Kumar, Executive Director (Cargo), Air India shares said, “Air India Cargo uses the latest state-of-the-art technology for cargo activities called Logistic Management System (LMS) for cargo sales and handling functions of import and export. The LMS system supports EDI interface with Indian Customs. The movement of the cargo can be tracked through LMS.”
“Though the industry has been adopting technology in many ways, still the industry has a long way to go in adopting best practices and technological innovations that will modernise air cargo. And we are taking continuous effort towards this,” Kumar added.

Technology suggestions
Singh added, “The air cargo industry is undergoing a technology transformation – expanding from heavy use of legacy mainframe systems to more customised interfaces used for networking planning, flight operations, revenue accounting, and other processes. By embracing technology and leveraging the latest advances, air cargo carriers will be able to streamline their operations, reduce costs, and optimise their efficiency. For example, one potential remedy to meeting customer demands for swifter deliveries is to leverage existing e-freight technology, which aims to take the paper out of air cargo and replace it with the exchange of electronic data and messages.” Echoing similar thoughts, More said, “Fortunately in India we have both these kinds of initiatives in progress and India already figures in the list of fasted growing e-freight / e-AWB countries. India has an opportunity to create benchmarks in the world in this area. The cargo community should collaboratively embrace and encourage such initiatives that will set benchmarks for the world to follow.”
Another step the air cargo industry can take to improve efficiency is by designing an effective shared data platform that allows for the seamless sharing of data globally, suggested by Arvind Mehrotra, President and Global Business Head – Infrastructure Management Services at NIIT Technologies. “The industry is in agreement that, as a whole, they need to do a better job of sharing and reusing data, including a large portion of shipment data. We believe the industry should develop a platform that facilitates such exchanges, which would significantly boost efficiency,” he added.
Another way the industry can reinvent itself is by improving the transparency of its supply chain operations. Sreenivasa Kumar Kasina, Senior Manager at Accenture said, “Air cargo carriers can ensure the integrity of the product throughout the supply chain by leveraging newer technologies throughout the process. For instance, some carriers have introduced GPS solutions that enable shippers to track the location and condition of high-value, time-critical, or other important shipments.” The GPS has added more visibility to a supply chain that has already benefitted from technology’s ability to transact and track shipments.
The Unisys report suggested using RFID sensors on items within a shipment that can quickly identify if part of a shipment is missing, exactly what is missing and where it is likely to be. “Data from sensors on containers carrying sensitive air cargo such as pharmaceutical and perishable products can automatically send key metrics of environmental conditions throughout the transport lifecycle to a logistics management system so that a full audit trail is available on demand. Such ready access to up-to-date data throughout the supply chain provides air cargo carriers with insights to help ensure that customer promises are fulfilled even when there is disruption along the route,” the report stated.
Furthermore, Kasina suggested, “With self-service, cargo customers have more control of the process, and have been demanding the convenience and value they want. Kiosks that confirm delivery collection lists in less than a minute have been offered to customers at some carriers. With the paperless technology, customers and warehouse staff can achieve a more efficient import delivery process.”
More air cargo carriers are investing in digital and mobile systems to improve customer interfaces, enhance user experiences, and drive operational efficiencies in their procedures. Some carriers have migrated their legacy operating platforms to web-based systems, which, in turn, allows them to launch the mobile technologies that their customers value. “Smartphone-friendly websites and apps have also become more common. By implementing these technologies, carriers have been able to transform themselves and enhance their operational efficiency,” Singh added.

Mehrotra is of the opinion that air cargo carriers must do all they can to leverage existing technology, as well as introduce new IT solutions, in order to improve their efficiency and transparency. They should also seek to reduce costs and transport time in the supply chain. In doing so, the industry will remain competitive and agile.
Recently, during IATA’s e-Cargo Conference and Workshop in Geneva, Switzerland, John DeBenedette, managing director of the online platform for independent forwarders, WIN called on all air freight stakeholders to urgently adopt a “technology manifesto for change” and bring the industry into the 21st century. “We need disruptive innovation, to look to a common platform accessed by the web,” said DeBenedette. “If we continue relying on 1990s solutions, e-freight adoption is going to take forever.” He continued, “E-collaboration is powering modern business everywhere, the likes of Amazon are booming, the technology is less expensive, more reliable, and more secure. We have to move away from saving and forwarding messages, we need a paradigm shift here and now.”
“Let’s call it a technology manifesto for change. We need to agree on this and move the industry forward and we need to do it now,” he concluded.