We know you like to stay on top of the latest trends, so we asked Scott McCorquodale, our Chief Automation Officer – Air Cargo, his views on key lessons learned from the last 12 months, and what advice he has for forwarders and carriers as we head towards the end of 2021.
“COVID-19 has only reinforced the need to be innovative and agile.”
There’s no denying that the air cargo industry has been through massive disruption and seen huge fluctuations over the last 12 to 18 months.
If I cast my mind back to the early days of the pandemic, in April and May 2020 alone, we saw an 88% reduction in scheduled daily flights in the EU region, or around 157,000 canceled flights in total1.
These flights are slowly and steadily coming back across the world, which obviously has a knock-on effect on air cargo because so much of it travels in the belly of passenger planes. This remains one of the biggest disruptors – that the capacity is not where it's needed on certain routes.
We've also witnessed huge changes to the way that airlines operate. I’m sure many of us have seen the footage of aircraft flying around the world with boxes on seats and in overhead lockers, all the aisles full of boxes, and of course, no passengers on board.
A lot of that is still taking place today, depending on the route. This demonstrates the ability of freight forwarders to be innovative, and airlines to be innovative as well. And to always rise to whatever challenge is presented.
“The air cargo industry has never been under more pressure to do more with less, while moving more for less.”
The fundamental process of moving a piece of cargo from A to B is made up of a whole range of complex elements, and customers expect transparency at every stage of this process.
If you're a freight forwarder, and you're trying to identify how you can best move your cargo, then the old days of knowing which airlines would fly what flights, on what days and on what aircraft, are gone, because there is so much rapid change happening in schedules.
Consequently, without the right technology tools, as a forwarder you're going to have to make a lot of phone calls, or send lots of emails to get the information you need, which is going to be difficult and error prone, for you and the airline.
And that's where technology plays a really key part, ensuring we can make the whole process work more effectively.
An example is the ability to action direct electronic bookings in real-time, which while fairly simple, enables freight forwarders to provide immediate processing and responses to their customers. Or take for instance, operational data exchange, where processing times are decreased and there’s a reduction in errors and costs.
The role technology can play in enhancing the air cargo industry is rapidly evolving, and I suspect we'll probably look back on it in five years’ time, and have an even more efficient, more connected and more technologically savvy industry.
“An investment in technology and optimization now, will help you hedge against unknowns down the road.”
I think history shows us that the airline and cargo industry is very good at adapting to change.
There's been a lot we’ve had to navigate in recent years, from changes in regulatory and security requirements to evolving customs regulations, changes to how the industry actually operates at a macro level, and of course, the overall trend to try and minimize our reliance on paper in the air-cargo process.
At the end of the day, the unknowns will always be unknown. But there is no question that the investment in implementing the right technology now, will put airlines and forwarders in a position of strength in the future.
For the industry overall, sometimes it’s about getting the basics consistently right in terms of cargo tracking and keeping shippers informed of where the cargo is at all times.
And that's where there's a real need to accelerate digital transformation initiatives so that the whole process and the whole supply chain can be better informed. If you can improve the way that that information flows around the industry, then you're going to have a much better result in the end.
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1EUROCONTROL, ‘Covid-19 impact on the European air traffic network’, May 2020.