Taking paper out of air cargo


“We are experiencing a time of prolonged transformation,” says Steve Hill of CHAMP Cargosystems. IATA has set ambitious goals for the physical Air Waybills – designed over 80 years ago – to go electronic by 2015. What stands in the way?

“The past five years have seen marked difference in the transformation of the air transport industry. This is not just because of e-freight and initiatives such as Cargo 2000 (C2K), but also because of major structural changes by an increasing number of airlines such as the 100 per cent outsourcing of ground handling,” says Steve Hill, Principal Industry Consultant for CHAMP Cargosystems, one of global leaders in integrated IT solutions and distribution services in the air cargo industry. 

Hill, who has been in the airline business for almost 40 years, is one of the key players in the transformation of the air cargo industry. He is a member of many industry boards and advisory committees that work on regulations and recommendations including C2K. 

One of C2K’s main goals is to help assure high quality performance underpinning the shift to e-freight, which means the elimination of paper from the cargo business.  

Going paper-free

Currently, air cargo shipments require as many as 20 different paper documents, which slows down air cargo processes and is a strain on natural and other resources. Estimates place paperwork generated by air cargo as filling up to eighty 747-cargo planes annually. 
“Moving away from a ‘paper trail’ view of the world requires new business models,” says Hill. “The dematerialization of paper will have an effect on how to do business – from the organization of an office to how to manage the freight. It represents a total business change,” he says. 
One of the central components of the move to e-freight is adopting an electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB). 
“We are focusing our attention on the big challenge, and transforming our industry starts with the e-AWB, which is the central to the business. But the transition is not as straightforward as it would seem,” says Hill.

“Technology is there, but confidence is missing”

According to Hill, part of the challenge is that the template for the Air Waybill was designed over 80 years ago and the demands facing that document have changed dramatically since then. 
“Part of the e-AWB challenge now is how to adequately represent the information required for the different sections of the Air Waybill. The amount of data exchanged as an e-AWB can exceed the limitations of its paper counterpart. This can be an issue, as parties will still need to complete printed paperwork, even if using PDF files. The industry has a reasonable tradition of e-trading and messaging, but there has always been the safety net of paper to fall back on,” says Hill.
As Hill explains, there is an increasing amount of information that needs to be captured against an AWB. 
“We are a long way from the days of the 12 carbon copies cut by typewriter! But still we have essentially the same AWB layout and content. One of the challenges is while we still need to align ourselves with that layout it is a constraint to full progress of the e-AWB. For example, even with the current limited messaging standards, the volume of information required for some shipments cannot adequately fit in the designated boxes of the AWB and needs to be put into other areas it was not designed for. The new IATA XML standard will further extend the amount of data that can be captured and is closer to what should be an e-AWB that reflects what would be represented on a paper document.” 
IATA has set ambitious goals for the e-AWB aiming for 100 per cent e-AWB usage by 2015, preceded by a target of 50 per cent next year. One estimate puts the current usage of e-AWBs at around nine per cent. 

Why eliminate paper?

“There are several reasons why e-freight is important: the CSR commitment, to reduce the carbon footprint, increase fuel-efficiency and decrease the amount of paper being flown around the world,” says industry expert Steve Hill. 
Estimates place the amount of paperwork being flown around the world each year as enough to fill up to eighty 747-cargo planes. 
“There are also huge amounts of paper in every cargo office and some documents act as a ‘paper trigger’ for operational actions. Also a paper AWB copy can have other local documents attached – creating yet more paper to manage. The handling, managing, storing, and archiving of paper work – up to ten years legally – takes up a lot of space,” says Hill, who considers sense of security to be one of the main reasons why the cargo industry has been holding onto paper for so long.  
Finnair partner CHAMP Cargosystems
CHAMP Cargosystems provides the most comprehensive range of integrated, IT solutions and distribution services for the air cargo transport chain. The portfolio spans core management systems, messaging services, and eCargo solutions. 
Text by Katja Pantzar
Photos by iStockphoto and CHAMP Cargosystems

Published August 28, 2013

Category: Collaboration, Environment