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Air Canada Cargo, already one of the most technologically advanced carriers, has taken shipment visibility to a new level by employing RFID technology.

This allows the airline to track shipments in real time – at piece level.

“Piece level is unique to this solution. So if a shipper has tendered one shipper-loaded unit or ULD, we will track the ULD,” explained Lise-Marie Turpin, vice president of cargo. “If the shipper has tendered 10 loose pieces, we will‎ track the 10 loose pieces.

“This will provide real-time tracking and help from a security and Customs perspective. Quality improvements will also result,” she added.

The technology is deployed at six ‘read points’ while the shipment is in the custody of the carrier – from goods acceptance and build-up, export and import to breakdown and delivery.

Air Canada has deployed the technology on the Montreal-Frankfurt sector, and the results have been good, says Ms Turpin.

She describes RFID deployment as “the beginning of a new era in terms of tracking”.

Now Air Canada Cargo is preparing to expand RFID to other markets. First on the list is Boston Logan (BOS) Airport.

“We are designing diagnostic tools and dashboards, as well as planning for our next station, BOS, which we hope to have established as tagging shipments with RFID-embedded lot labels, by end of this year,” said Barb Johnston, manager of operational programmes.

“Following BOS, there is an ambitious roll-out schedule throughout the network over the next two years, equipping the majority of our stations with some level of RFID technology. The ownership, size and flight frequencies in each station will determine the level of complexity,” she continued.

Not every station is going to be solely equipped with RFID. The set-up is designed for a dual regime that allows a co-existence with barcode scanning.

It is the second tier of stations, such as Chicago, “where we don’t need the full monty,” Ms Turpin said. These will have RFID readers over the doors to read the tag as a shipment enters or exits.

The third rung is made up of smaller stations where track and trace is done through barcode labels. These have an RFID tag that comes into play at the larger stations.

“For example, if we move a shipment from Regina to Montreal, Regina scans the barcode, in Montreal the RFID tag works,” Ms Turpin explained.

“The schedule begins with a sweep of many stations across the US and Canada early in 2016, as well as CDG and LHR,” Ms Johnston declared.

AC’s RFID solution has been in the works for a while, with Ms Turpin preferring to move forward step by step. It was developed in co-operation with technology providers Jamison RFID and Franwell Inc. When other carriers got wind of the project, they approached AC about it, but Ms Turpin wanted to have the system operational first. Now the doors are open for commercial talks.

“With Franwell, we have engaged with potential new customers for this solution. As we are live in YUL and FRA, we are able to showcase the solution in both stations,” she said.

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