Air Transport World

Automating air cargo: is it possible to eliminate the paper from airfreight transactions while still keeping cargo secure?(CARGO)

MANY AIR CARGO OPERATORS WOULD LIKE TO MIMIC the passenger side of the airline industry's move away from paper processing. E-tickets now are nearly universal; old-fashioned paper tickets are not even an option in most of the world. But as IATA DG and CEO Giovanni Bisignani is fond of saying, the documents traveling with air cargo could fill 39 747 freighters annually and add an estimated $1.2 billion to the global industry's yearly costs. Mistakes, lost documents and related confusion also cause cargo to get held in customs facilities, angering customers who paid for time-definite delivery and cutting into air's speed advantage over other modes of cargo transport.

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Can the paper-heavy industry change its ways? Security will play a big role in how successful the effort to automate air cargo ultimately is. Unlike the passenger side, where security efforts are focused on physical inspection of persons and luggage, air cargo security is largely about information. Cargo generally is cleared for takeoff and approved for entry by customs authorities not because it undergoes an explosive detection system scan or is physically examined but rather because it is coming from "known shippers" and is accompanied by documents verifying its secure transfer from one party to another.

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There are two ways of looking at the e-freight issue. One is that coordinating electronic transfers among the various players (and IT systems) handling a piece of air cargo is too complicated and easily can lead to a scenario in which a piece of freight's origin becomes too murky, particularly in the post-9/11 aviation security environment. …

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