Air Transport World

Close, but no cigar.(air cargo information technology improvements have not gone far enough)(Brief Article)

IT management systems have opened great doors for the air cargo industry--they just haven't opened them wide enough

Three years ago a Unisys study reported that from the early 1970s to the mid-'90s, the international air cargo industry had improved its service by only 6 hr., from an average shipping time of 6 days, 6 hr. to 6 days (ATW 1/97).

That was when the industry was starting to use the rapidly growing power of the computer to create sophisticated cargo-management systems to improve both efficiency and service. Today we have even more sophisticated management systems but have they given us better service and a more efficient industry? Well . . . yes and no.

A study by IATA's Cargo 2000 Committee showed that 42% of containerized shipments spend 72 hr. or less in transit but that the average is about 100 hr., or just over 4 days, door-to-door. And half that time is spent at the destination airport, according to Hisaaki Matsuyama, VP-cargo industry affairs at Japan Airlines. Noncontainerized cargo takes 6.3 days to arrive.

However, the average time to transport an international air freight shipment is becoming a moot point. If a shipment takes 4-6 days to deliver, it's because the shipper or consignee is willing to tolerate a certain level of inefficiency for a certain price. If they want a guaranteed faster delivery time they can get it--but at a higher cost.

"It's price elasticity," said Brian Clancy, a principal with MergeGlobal, an Arlington, Va.-based consulting firm specializing in freight transportation. "If transit time is so critical that people cannot accept six days and need it in two days, they are going to upgrade and go by express services."

The two major concerns expressed by shippers are cost and reliable service, with reliable defined as time-definite service and accurate tracking capability. A 2/3-day shipping time is not necessarily critical as long as the shipment is there when it is needed.

Some carriers are starting to offer time-definite service, assuring customers that shipments will go on specific flights and arrive at specific times. The cost is higher than for normal air freight but less than for express mail. The assurance comes from IT systems that allow the forwarder to reserve a position on a specific aircraft and then track the shipment through to its destination. The demand for greater accuracy in shipping has risen to the point that IT has become as critical to the shipping process as the actual handling of the cargo, said Ludwig Abeltshauser, IT manager for Lufthansa Cargo.

Most carriers heavily involved in freight have developed cargo-management systems designed to increase efficiency and deal with the problems created by the large number of players in the logistics chain. Each system has worked well for the airline that developed it. But while some have tried to build all-encompassing IT networks that would allow other airlines to buy in, there is no single integrated system serving the industry as a whole. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.