October 7, 2022
Digital Transformation Helps Air Freight Soar
Innovation Technology

Digital Transformation Helps Air Freight Soar

DALLAS – The world is highly dependent on air freight providers to ensure products get where they need to go on time and in good condition. However, it was not until recently that many of those companies began investing in new technologies.

Here’s a look at why and how digital upgrades will help these organizations positively transform how they do business.


WebCargo matrix. Image: Webcargo.co

Providing Real-Time Pricing and Capacity Details

Pursuing a digital transformation can allow companies to provide better visibility into details that could get them more business. One example of how that could work comes from Silk Way West Airlines (7L) and its partnership with WebCargo.

Silk Way West Airlines is one of the world’s leading all-freighter air companies. It currently has 13 freighters that go to more than 40 destinations. It began sending real-time data about pricing and booking details to the WebCargo network of freight forwarders in January 2022. 

As part of its ongoing investment in digital capabilities, American Airlines Cargo (AA) will also place its capacity on the WebCargo portal. In the first half of 2022, bookings will be available through the platform in parts of Europe and North America, before spreading to other parts of the world later that year.

The move will give WebCargo’s more than 10,000 freight forwarder users access to AA’s cargo services, according to the company.

Digital bookings originating in 2021 from all air cargo brands represented on WebCargo have increased more than tenfold over 2020’s numbers. Wolfgang Meier, the president and CEO of 7L, said, “It has become clear that the pandemic and increased global logistics demand have accelerated the need to offer digital booking capabilities for air freight.”

Manuel Galindo, the CEO of WebCargo, backed up that sentiment by confirming that rising activity levels on the company’s digital platform show how more people realize that these transactions are necessities. 

Photo: LATAM Cargo

Giving Air Freight Customers More Options

Moving ahead with digitalization could also provide greater flexibility and choice for people who need air freight services. LATAM Airlines Group and its cargo subsidiaries partnered with the cargo.one platform, enabling customers to instantly book options within the carrier’s network. 

Andres Bianchi, the CEO of LATAM Cargo, said, “We want to provide customers with reliable and efficient solutions and a broad set of options that allow them to choose what works best for them. The LATAM Cargo carriers’ network and product portfolio are great examples of that. Partnering with cargo.one is fully aligned with this goal as it gives customers access to LATAM’s cargo capacity through an innovative way.”

He continued, “The strategic collaboration with cargo.one enables expansion into an established, high-performing digital marketplace and to meet and exceed clients’ requirements for complete visibility and control in the booking process of their shipments. cargo.one not only delivers on the demand for customer self-service but also offers airlines unrivaled continuous improvement with additional services such as its cargo.one360 data analysis platform.”

The “complete visibility and control” mentioned could also protect air freight companies if something goes wrong. Digital tools help companies trace bookings to identify potential problems, such as when customers say goods have not arrived or are taking longer than expected to reach their destinations. 

Photo: Xwing

Building the Foundation for Future Autonomous Flights 

There has been a lot of talk about self-driving vehicles, including those that deliver goods to consumers. However, there’s also ongoing progress happening with autonomous planes. Freight companies that invest in digitalization could be better prepared for those pilotless flights. 

People at Xwing believe autonomous technology could eventually provide significant assistance to the air cargo market. Xwing recently completed the first fully autonomous flight, showing what’s possible. Its piloted planes have also been carrying essential cargo, including COVID-19 vaccines. 

Statistics show that airlines in America carried more than US$76.57bn worth of air cargo in 2020. However, pilot shortages could cripple future growth in the sector. A potential solution is a new cargo plane called the SkyCourier. Pilots operating it would not need the minimum 1,500 flight hours usually required. However, fully automated flights are certainly worthwhile possibilities, too. 

Putting money into digitalization now is a good way to get ready for such options. However, as air cargo companies get on board with digital upgrades, representatives must also take cybersecurity seriously. Statistics show that approximately 60% of companies experienced cyberattacks in 2019. Since then, internet criminals have gotten progressively more creative in orchestrating devastating hacks. 

Cybersecurity incidents can disrupt business in any industry. However, hackers often like to achieve notoriety with their efforts. Thwarting a novel technology, such as an autonomous cargo plane, would do that. Thus, any companies seeking to use cargo digitalization to their advantage should pay attention to the internet security aspect. Otherwise, they could soon encounter unforeseen issues. 

Image: IATA

Reducing Paperwork

Perhaps the most immediately obvious advantage of digital air freight technology is the minimization of physical documents, which can get lost, damaged, or stolen. They’re also not ideal for the environment due to all the paper used. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) stipulated that digital waybills became the default contract of carriage as of Jan. 1, 2019. For now, that’s still the ideal and not the reality. However, a digitalization push can help air freight companies adapt to a paperless future sooner rather than later. 

Lufthansa Cargo is one example of a company moving forward with electronic air waybills (eAWB). As of March 22, 2022, it will only accept digital waybills for shipments within all feasible lanes. The airline has also introduced a service to convert paper waybills to digitized ones. Those new documents then accompany the outgoing shipments. 

Ashwin Bhat, Lufthansa Cargo’s chief commercial officer, stated, “Over the past few years, we have driven many digitization initiatives in the air cargo industry. In fact, eliminating paper AWBs in the future could be one of the most important steps. A majority of our customers already use eAWB exclusively. With the new service, we can now easily take all customers with us on our digitization journey and enable them to take the step towards paperless transports as well.”

Using an eAWB strategy to replace physical documents brings air freight companies more convenience. Customers who need copies of an eAWB for any reason could have them with a few clicks. Companies may also pursue automation tools to streamline some of the steps required for making those digital documents. Automating at least part of the process could reduce errors and save time. 

Lufthansa Cargo A321P2F. Photo: Nick Sheeder/Airways

Air Freight Technology Represents Progress

The air freight technology market is still relatively young. However, the examples shown here and elsewhere indicate why it could be such a game-changer compared to non-digital practices.

People who are interested in using digital technologies to improve air freight workflows should consider several factors, such as their budgets and their availability to implement new tools, before proceeding. They should also focus on what goals they want to achieve with the technology. Having those in mind at the outset will make it easier to see if the products they use provide the desired results.

Featured image: Silk Way West Airlines VQ-BBH Boeing 747-8F. Photo: Miles Aronovitz/Airways

Emily Newton is a technology journalist. She is Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring the latest innovations.

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