Airfreight predictions have been challenging in recent years.
“Being a forecaster for the cargo business has been a fool’s errand for the last few years,” John Cheetham, chief commercial officer at IAG Cargo, recently told Air Cargo Next when predicting which technologies airfreight stakeholders will embrace in 2023.
Between global events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a spike in inflation, forecasting can seem foolish indeed. However, one trend has taken off and remained consistent: digitalization.
Air Cargo Next has gathered predictions from stakeholders on which trends will continue in 2023 and beyond, from enhanced digital booking availability to increased investments in sustainability and artificial intelligence.
1. Digital booking platforms will expand
Carriers and freight forwarders have embraced e-booking platforms to streamline operations and improve efficiencies, with nearly every major carrier using platforms like cargo.one, CargoAi, CargoWise and WebCargo by Freightos.
Digital cargo booking will grow drastically over the next three years, according to an October 2022 report by cargo.one and management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The two organizations predicted that nearly 60% of air carrier bookings could come through digital channels by 2025. By the end of 2022, digital sales were estimated to approach 30%, a jump of 10 percentage points year over year, the report found.
The digital platforms allow for real-time shipment tracking, automated booking and invoicing, and data analytics to optimize routes and improve customer service. The use of middleware — software that provides services to other applications — also allows airlines to communicate directly with logistics providers and customers, Nate Nevens, director of international business services at Dallas-based Omni Logistics, told Air Cargo Next.
“The hope is [digital booking adoption] will continue in 2023 as shippers and airlines work in unison to provide complete visibility to all parties involved,” Nevens said.
Meanwhile, WebCargo estimates its available bookings now account for more than 50% of total air cargo capacity. This number was calculated based on global scheduled, available tonne-kilometers (SATKs) and dividing the total SATKs of airlines available on WebCargo by the total industry SATKs.
Digitized capacity on WebCargo increased nearly 300% from the start of 2020 through the second quarter of 2022 alone, Manuel Galindo, chief executive of WebCargo, told Air Cargo Next.
Although e-booking has led to greater efficiency, payments in 2023 will no longer remain fixed through traditional means or third-party platforms. The antiquated systems are not only difficult to use, but are “downright harmful to business,” Galindo said.
“Digitization will also increasingly play a role for carriers in providing a low-cost avenue to expand into new markets,” he noted. This will “extend airlines’ reach without the significant costs of building up a new local sales presence, whilst simultaneously providing increased visibility to a carrier’s other lanes and services existing customers may not have been aware of.”
In May 2022, WebCargo became the first cargo booking platform to unify real-time rates and booking with payments, Galindo said. Early adopter carriers like IAG Cargo and Qatar Airways Cargo already make use of the new feature, which allows customers to book capacity and make payments through the same platform, benefiting importers and exporters via their forwarders, he added.
2. Data visibility will grow
At the heart of the many benefits of digitalization in airfreight — efficiency, cost savings, safety, sustainability — is data visibility. With more real-time data, stakeholders can improve utilization and margins, Galindo said.
“This is not a zero-sum game; with better utilization, airlines will be able to pass on more competitive prices to their customers,” he added.
Access to data, in a controlled way, should be free and available to all in the supply chain, Tristan Koch, chief commercial officer at Awery Aviation Software, told Air Cargo Next.
“We are finding that airfreight stakeholders like airlines, GSSAs [general sales and service agents], freight forwarders and shippers are realizing that a more open and cooperative approach to information and data-sharing is mutually beneficial,” Koch said.
Awery has prioritized collaboration among stakeholders through its own partnerships. Most recently, the company partnered with GSSA Airnautic and general sales agent A.D. Aviation in November 2022 to use its enterprise resource planning platform to support e-bookings through Awery’s CargoBooking system, as well as to use data to streamline the companies’ sales, operations and finance projects.
Awery in September 2022 partnered with DGOffice for digital dangerous goods (DG) documentation compliance, digitizing a process that had long been done through paperwork, which can run the risk of containing errors and therefore compromising the safety of goods like lithium batteries and flammable goods.
Data analysis is also helping Virgin Atlantic Cargo understand customer behavior when booking capacity online, Alexander Rowe, manager of cargo technology and digital, told Air Cargo Next.
Data “allows us to identify client needs and requirements to increase reach to different customer segments which are driven by a multi-channel strategy and range of digital channels,” Rowe said. “This includes direct [application programming interface] integrations, a proprietary portal, and marketplaces.”
Virgin will bring its own capacity online in April through a partnership with Accelya, adopting the software company’s FLX Cargo Platform to integrate into its own system. The platform allows Virgin to customize everything from sales processes to managing invoicing and payment settlements.
See also: Digital dialogue: Tech talk from WCS
3. Artificial intelligence will go mainstream
While real-time data is becoming increasingly essential for stakeholders, predictive technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) technology offer a competitive edge.
IoT, which typically involves sensors that communicate digitally with software, can integrate disparate software systems so that every part of the supply chain — from ground handlers to freight forwarders — can identify the location of shipments in real time. IoT also plays a role in gathering data for AI software.
IoT, AI, ML, robotics and blockchain are some of the most “enchanting” new technologies emerging in airfreight, Amar More, chief executive of cargo community system provider Kale Logistics Solutions, told Air Cargo Next.
“Organizations are deliberating on how to implement a model which brings end-to-end automation, leveraging the benefits that each of these cutting-edge technologies offer,” More said.
Those benefits include optimized networks, contingency planning, demand forecasting and navigating sudden changes in the shipping process due to delays and other mishaps.
“Machine learning algorithms can predict demand and optimize inventory management, while automation can streamline processes such as cargo handling documentation,” Omni Logistics’ Nevens said.
Finding ways to integrate automation into the buying process will lead to less human error, improved cost savings and happier customers, he added.
Additionally, quantum computing has entered the industry to address issues that regular computing doesn’t have the processing power to solve. In August 2022, Airbus partnered with quantum computing company IonQ to build a prototype application to improve cargo loading efficiency. IonQ’s Aria quantum computer, which utilizes predictive algorithms, could lead to cost savings as cargo distribution is optimized in aircraft.
4. Tracking technology will gain traction
The ability to easily track a shipment along its route and access all relevant information in a single, unified location is now a “must-have” feature for carriers, WebCargo’s Galindo said.
The benefits that come from real-time tracking help increase efficiencies and reduce cases of lost or damaged cargo. Tracking also improves shipment execution on the pickup or drop-off legs, he added.
Almost all goods will soon be completely trackable along the supply chain, Stefan Borggreve, chief digital officer at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, told Air Cargo Next.
“More and more cargo is getting equipped with IoT, and it’s very important to know exactly where your goods are, and even more importantly when they will arrive wherever you need them,” Borggreve said. “And then in combination with artificial intelligence that certainty will further increase to really make sophisticated forecasting, and create complete transparency via supply chains to give control back to our clients.”
In addition, cargo is being digitally monitored to ensure quality.
In December 2022, Hellmann introduced a passive QR data tracker that measures temperature variance, humidity, light and shocks for shipments. The tracker also helps delineate transfers of risk and liability issues should cargo get lost or damaged. The tracker, Hellmann Smart QR, is part of the company’s suite of tracking systems, which includes SmartAir!, introduced in December 2021.
Many cargo tracking systems use IoT to track unit load devices (ULDs), including ULD management company Unilode, which in September 2022 introduced an airborne IoT network that tracks ULDs in flight. The sensor, known as the OnAsset Sentry 600, uses Bluetooth, cellular, Wi-Fi and LoRa radio connectivity as well as GPS to track and relay information from all phases of movement.
5. Sustainability initiatives will surge
As digitalization continues its spread across the airfreight industry, sustainability has also gone mainstream, especially if sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) becomes more readily available in the new year.
Sustainability initiatives like SAF and electric ground handling vehicles inherently require technology to become a reality, and in turn, digitalization enables the airfreight industry to become more sustainable, Nevens noted.
“Digital platforms can be used to optimize routes and reduce fuel consumption, while data analytics can be used to identify areas for improvement in terms of sustainability,” he said. “This will create a competitive advantage for companies conducting ESG [environmental, social, and governance] reporting.”
While the environmental benefits of SAF are clear, the additional cost and limited availability has slowed adoption, but new technologies have become available to give customers more of an incentive to purchase SAF. Digital platforms have added carbon calculators for forwarders looking to monitor and cut their carbon footprint when booking flights.
With carbon calculators, forwarders can compare CO2 emissions across rates, and in some cases, choose a percentage of SAF to be included in the fuel mix for their shipments.
Air France-KLM Martinair Cargo (AFKLMP Cargo) introduced its goSAF program in October 2022, which allows customers to choose from four levels of SAF contribution — 2%, 5%, 20% and 100% — to a freighter’s fuel mix for shipments through the carrier’s myCargo booking platform.
In May 2022, Freightos introduced a free-to-all carbon emissions calculator through its WebCargo e-booking platform, which can parse close to 2 million services on multimodal freight searches with the goal of reducing overall industry emissions.
“Customers will therefore be able to make more informed and sustainable booking decisions, while improving carbon emissions tracking across multiple modes,” Galindo said.
During the 2022 TIACA Air Cargo Forum, CargoAi won the start-up/small business award for its own carbon calculator during the forum’s Air Cargo Sustainability Awards.
Stakeholders have also invested in carbon capture technology to remove CO2 from the air, including Airbus and Air Canada, which made investments in Canada-based climate solutions company Carbon Engineering’s direct air capture (DAC) technology in November 2022.
“In difficult times slated for air cargo ahead where demand may decrease, the outlook for the year is positive about fundamental trends such as digitalization and sustainability,” Kale Logistics Solutions’ More said.