The history of digital air cargo booking can be traced back to the early days of the internet.
In the late 1990s, the air cargo industry began to experiment with electronic booking systems to improve efficiency and reduce costs. These early systems were often proprietary, meaning that they were developed and operated by individual airlines or cargo companies.
In the early 2000s, several global air cargo alliances, such as SkyTeam Cargo and Star Alliance Cargo, began to develop digital booking platforms that could be used by multiple carriers. These platforms allowed shippers to compare rates and book air cargo shipments online, streamlining the booking process and reducing paperwork.
The global pandemic in 2020 accelerated digital air cargo booking technologies.
Following is an overview of milestones in the evolution of digital cargo booking:
Online freight marketplaces
In the early 2000s, several online freight marketplaces emerged that allowed shippers and carriers to connect and book cargo online. Companies such as Kansas City, Mo.-based FreightQuote, an online freight shipping company that provides quotes from multiple carriers for LTL, truckload and parcel shipping, and Austin, Texas-based uShip, an open transport marketplace that connects people who have items to ship with customer-reviewed carriers, were early pioneers in the digital cargo booking space.
Introduction of digital booking platforms
In the mid-2000s, several shipping companies began to develop digital booking platforms that allowed shippers to book cargo space online. These platforms were typically proprietary to the shipping companies and were not open to third-party logistics providers.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2005 launched a digital booking platform called e-freight, which aimed to create a paperless air cargo industry. E-freight allowed shippers, forwarders and airlines to exchange shipment data and documentation electronically, reducing the need for paper documents and speeding up the shipment process.
Growth of digital freight forwarders
In the 2010s, a new breed of digital freight forwarders emerged that began leveraging technology to provide shippers with a more efficient and transparent way of doing business. Companies such as Flexport and Freightos disrupted the traditional freight forwarding industry by offering instant quotes, real-time tracking and customized shipping solutions.
The growth of digital air cargo booking accelerated as more companies began to embrace digital technologies to improve supply chain operations. One key driver of this growth was the increasing demand for faster, more efficient shipping services, particularly in the e-commerce and retail sectors.
In response many air cargo carriers and logistics companies invested heavily in digital booking platforms and other technologies to improve operational efficiency and customer service. These platforms allowed shippers to book and track shipments online, providing greater visibility and control over the supply chain.
In addition to customer-facing platforms, the companies invested in backend technologies, such as automated warehouse management systems and predictive analytics tools.
Another key trend in digital air cargo booking in the 2010s was the increasing use of cloud-based platforms and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. These technologies allowed companies to rapidly deploy logistics solutions and scale operations more quickly, without the need for large IT investments.
Adoption of blockchain technology
In recent years, there has been growing interest in using blockchain technology to improve the efficiency and security of digital air cargo booking. Blockchain technology offers the potential to create a decentralized and secure ledger that can be used to track cargo and payments across the supply chain.
One benefit is its ability to be shared among multiple parties, which could help to streamline the booking process, reduce paperwork, and improve security and trust among shippers, carriers and other stakeholders.
Catalyst for change
The pandemic had a significant impact on the adoption of digital air cargo booking.
One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic was disruption of global supply chains, as lockdowns and travel restrictions led to reduced air cargo capacity and increased demand for shipping services. This led to a surge in demand for digital air cargo booking platforms, as shippers and carriers sought ways to manage shipments and respond to changing market conditions.
Many air cargo carriers and logistics companies ramped up their investments in digital technologies, including digital booking platforms, automated warehouse management systems, and real-time tracking and visibility tools.
The pandemic also highlighted the need for greater flexibility in supply chains, which has led to increased interest in technologies such as blockchain and AI that can enable more agile decision-making.