Has air cargo’s digital drive accelerated fast enough?

By Damian Brett

Source: IATA

The adoption of digitalisation has accelerated during the past two years, but this isn’t too much of a surprise given the slow progress prior to the pandemic.

Speaking on an IATA World Cargo Symposium (WCS) digitalisation panel chaired by Deloitte Canada global air cargo and logistics leader Dejan Markovic, panelists agreed that the Covid pandemic had helped speed up the adoption of digital technology in airfreight.

However, Awery Aviation Software chief commercial officer Tristan Koch said this wasn’t too much of a surprise.

“The choice of acceleration [as a description] is interesting because we couldn’t have gone any slower from where we were – it is a bit of shame it took the Covid pandemic to bring this about,” he said.

“What accelerated the adoption was: need, belief and curiosity.

“The need was immediate, the industry transformed in a matter of a week or two and we adopted very quickly to new ways of working, but they already existed.

“The belief followed that,” he added. “People don’t feel the need to see their client every week to keep that business.

“Customers are quite pleased to interact online to fulfil bookings. Some of the fears [of digitalisation] have been dispelled a little bit by the digitalisation we have seen.”

Koch added that air cargo’s heightened profile since the pandemic had also resulted in disruptors – in a positive sense – becoming more curious about the industry. 

However, he added that while the pricing and inventory side of air cargo had become increasingly digitalised, connectivity had a long way to go.

Swissport regional vice president Hendrik Leyssens added that as well as sales portals, the adoption of cargo community systems had also accelerated over the last couple of years.

“This has been stimulated for a few reasons,” Leyssens said. “Firstly, [due to the Covid pandemic] airport authorities have paid more attention to the cargo business as a whole and have focussed on efficiency gains.

“We have seen that picking up and there has been a lot of stakeholder engagement, but there are still a few barriers for us to cross as an industry.

“We also went from virtual to hybrid working which was quite a change to the way we work and has led to a change in the way we interact with customers.”

This had helped accelerate the use of customer-facing digital solutions, he explained.

Turkish Airlines chief cargo officer Turhan Ozen said the industry proved its ability to be agile and adopt new ways of working when the Covid crisis hit and airlines innovated with measures such as PAX-freighter flights.

However, he added: “When it comes to the level of digitalisation, at the moment this is not the case.

“I believe we need to take a similar journey of speed, flexibility and fast adoption to make sure we can survive in the coming years.”

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