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The air cargo industry continues to lag in technology and data sharing, according to “disappointing” IATA figures. For the second month in a row, the global penetration of e-AWBs has fallen.

To reach IATA’s target of 45% penetration by the end of the year, there must be about 2% growth per month. Yet it fell 0.7%, month on month, in March and 0.3% in April.

The news came as IATA ended its e-cargo and technology conference, at which the industry was urged to bring about change quickly.

“The key take-away message was that the industry needs to accelerate the transformation process, and we need disruptive innovation and change management to make this happen,” said IATA in a statement.

“Delegates renewed the pledge to drive e-AWB and Cargo-XML, but also identified the urgent need for air cargo to transform the way it manages and shares information. This means building a new network of interconnected, and interoperable, data platforms to manage core industry processes. An evolution has started, however it will require more leadership and collaboration across the entire industry.”

Co-operation is key, according to Luc Scheidel, commercial director for Amsterdam’s Cargonaut system.

“Using technology that is already available in the passenger business and other modes of transport will have a big impact in air cargo. In an era where staff use Facebook and Twitter at home, the introduction of already available technology at work will optimise processes. Cargonaut believes that these opportunities can be realised, provided all parties are willing to co-operate.”

Despite the fall in penetration, March volumes rose to the highest growth in the last 12 months, with the usual suspects of Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Air France-KLM leading the way.

One study has revealed the benefits eAWBs can bring to the industry. Dnata City, at LHR, noted that significant truck dwell times could be cut when eAWBs and the Electronic Consignment Security Declaration (e-CSD) were used.

Over one month, the handler saw the average time spent between a truck arriving at the gatehouse and the start of the cargo being offloaded halved, to nine minutes if e-AWB data had been sent in advance, while another two minutes were saved if e-CSD data was sent before the truck arrived.

While most companies are aware of the advantages, some still find that they do not have sufficient resources to prioritise e-freight.

One executive from a medium-sized company admitted: “While I appreciate it is quite high profile, we don’t see any immediate pressure from carriers to convert and conform – perhaps because few of them are ready themselves?

“With a finite amount of IT resource, we are focusing this on the client and their experience, rather than e-freight. Obviously if we had to do it tomorrow to operate the business we would have no choice,  but I just don’t see the pressure currently.”

He added, however, that “it is inevitable at some point”.

IATA is now considering how it can support smaller companies, and is eyeing the launch of a cheap and simple IT product – news that has not been greeted warmly by the increasingly competitive IT industry.

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