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Air cargo has been in a silo – unconnected to the rest of the supply chain, almost untouched by technology, it has sat alone, nestled between airports.
But not any more: both airlines and the tech industry are adapting.
In fact, increasing numbers of airline managers are moving into the tech industry, helping the two sectors get closer.
From Camilo Garcia Cervera, an IAG Cargo veteran now at Freightos’ WebCargo, to CargoAi’s Magali Beauregard (ex-Lufthansa) and Cargo.one’s latest hire, Simson Demmer of Cargologicair and Lufthansa, there is much movement between the sectors.
And the list includes airline executive (AA, IAG, and Coyne) Tristan Koch, now chief commercial officer at Awery Aviation Software. So what attracted him to switch sides?
“The future of air cargo sales is digitalisation, and Covid has accelerated that at a real pace. The big tech companies are all putting airline people in there.”
But, he adds, the shifting market goes both ways.
“Many of the top managers at airlines now see the IT industry as an opportunity, rather than a threat. We are currently in talks with lots of airlines, and they’ve all been really interested in what we have to say about our products. That old mistrust is melting away. And you can see airlines which have implemented the same system getting closer to each other.
“There is much more collaboration than previously seen.”
He adds that when American Airlines Cargo implemented its iCargo system, it saw it as a change management programme, rather than an IT project.
“And that’s the nice part of this job – seeing the change. It feels like a new career, a new environment.”
One of the major changes Mr Koch sees is an ability for technology to help secure air cargo better into the longer supply chain.
“Airport-to-airport is used to not being connected to the rest of the supply chain. Online booking is easy, it is connecting the rest of the supply chain to air cargo, and that’s the interesting bit.
“Brazil’s Azul, for example, has created a really nice door-to-door solution.
“What we want to get into is door-to-door, and we are talking to first and last mile providers – not carriers, but tech systems. No one has plugged the supply chain into the middle part – the airport-to-airport part. It’s all about synchronising the platforms and combining the two parties.
“When you realise what tech can do, it opens up possibilities, gives you another string to your bow. You need to facilitate cargo processes, but airlines want new and better business – but they can’t easily put that into place, it’s a tech thing.”
He also cites IAG’s van delivery service in the US: “It was a great idea, but it didn’t have the tech behind it to work most effectively. You need to aggregate deliveries, and it’s the tech that can make a service viable.”
Technology, he explains, needs to work for carriers – but doesn’t have to result in redundant staff.
“There is a question over whether this is the end of the cargo sales role; will GSAs become redundant? But there’s another way: automating jobs that should be automated, but maintaining relationships. You don’t need to manually process air waybills. Instead, you should spend the time adding value to customers and creating a better product. All that effort and energy put into the day-to-day can be taken away so you can do more useful things.”
Awery, a 13-year-old company, has developed an online booking platform, CargoBooking.aero, which is using AI.
“Email traffic remains one of the biggest pain points for airlines and forwarders. Our online digital platform uses AI to minimise and, in many cases, reduce this workload.”
Awery has both white label packages and plug-and-play.
“We want to bring tech to the masses. The whole industry has woken up. People have had to adjust quickly. There has been a huge generational shift – my father, for example, had never used contactless before Covid, now he’s the biggest convert.
“It means the user experience must be such that anyone can book a flight – if you can’t do it in a minute or two, it’s not good enough. And if we fall short, we are not going to have a foothold in the marketplace.”
This democratisation via technology still faces hurdles, however.
“One of the areas where nothing has changed is the billing process – you should be able to do business not only as an IATA agent. We want to make capacity available to all, but if you are not protected by CASS, you get no credit. It’s frustrating that you can book a passenger ticket, but not a $300 shipment because you don’t have a credited account.
“E-commerce has accelerated that demand. There are some companies which are solving some of the pay issues – in fact, payment solutions are two-a-penny now, so if a third party can create an easy payment solution for us, great.”
The hardest part so far for tech companies, he says, has been choosing the right solution.
“The challenge for us, as a medium-sized business, is working out what to focus on – there are hundreds of areas where we can help. And everyone is trying to find their space.
“The gloves are off in tech.”