Covid accelerates air cargo’s adoption of technology

The covid crisis has accelerated air cargo’s adoption of technology and its push towards a more sustainable future, according to speakers at the Air Cargo Europe online event.

Speaking on the Future of Air Cargo panel discussion, organised by Air Cargo News, Qatar Airlines chief officer cargo Guillaume Halleux said that the speed at which customers had begun to adopt digital booking since its capacity was listed on third-party platform WebCargo in January was “beyond our own belief”.

“The lockdown and work from home situation in many places contributed [to a digital adoption],” Halleux said. “With technology, once you taste it and try it, you get hooked.”

DHL Global Forwarding head of global airfreight forwarding Thomas Mack agreed: “Covid is for sure driving that and the fact that we have some of our workforce working from home that definitely gave a push towards digitalisation.”

Mack added that the Covid outbreak – and the boom in e-commerce – had also resulted in the industry re-evaluating the ground handler’s importance in the air cargo supply chain.

He said that the surge in volumes highlighted the need to improve digital links with cargo handlers to ensure the smooth flow of cargo through the entire air cargo supply chain.

“We will now push and approach the ground handlers and see if we can find solutions in regard to automation,” said Mack. “An RFI label, for example, where we can keep automated tracing and tracking of where the cargo is and the retrieval of the cargo, is one of the pressing issues.”

Wilson Kwong, chief executive of Hong Kong cargo handler Hactl, said that automation and digitalisation were key areas of development for handlers.

He said that this was in part driven by the challenge of recruiting workers, although he added that human interaction would always be required for many roles.

Kwong added that he hoped that higher air cargo rates and the increasing importance of the industry to airlines would last longer and help drive investment in these technologies.

Consultancy Change Horizon’s managing director, Celine Hourcade, added that the adoption of digital technologies had started even before the Covid outbreak with the launch of several projects and products.

“I can see so many fantastic ideas popping up on the market and being heard, being adopted and more visible,” she said.

Looking further ahead, she said the level of digital connectivity demonstrated by e-commerce firms like Amazon and Alibaba’s supply chains showed the future of air cargo.

Hourcade added that sustainability – in terms of people, planet, profit – was also growing in importance in air cargo.

“Sustainability is getting real attention and appetite because it is important for customers, important for employees – it is not a PR exercise anymore,” She said.

Register now to view a replay of the webinar

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]