Paper: from the ridiculous to the sublime

Paper: from the ridiculous to the sublime

SLOWLY, but surely, paper documents and analogue communications channels are being stripped away from air cargo transactions, whilst leaving a schizophrenic industry suffering from ridiculous double standards and double vision.

The e-freight air cargo revolution has taken at least six years longer than expected and is still not even close to becoming a worldwide phenomenon, writes Nigel Tomkins.

It was in November 2007 when IATA first started working on the paperless society and set a 2010 deadline for the widespread implementation of e-freight.

Nine years ago seven airlines and a handful of forwarders and ground handlers embarked on a collaborative project to rid the industry of the annual equivalent of some 40 B747 freighter loads of paper – an industry average of 30 paper documents per shipment.

Air Canada, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, KLM, Martinair, SAS and Singapore Airlines, as well as forwarders DHL Global Forwarding, Panalpina, Kuehne+Nagel, Schenker and a number of ground handling agents kick-started the move to a paper-free air cargo environment with the launch of six e-freight pilot projects. They started on key trade routes initially connecting Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden and the UK.

“The paper-free era for airfreight begins today,” exclaimed Giovanni Bisignani, then the director general of IATA. “This will pave the way for a global rollout of e-freight that will eliminate the paper that costs this industry US$1.2 billion every year,” he added.

E-freight would give air cargo a dynamic leap forward, strengthening competitiveness by cutting costs and improving transparency and predictability throughout the supply chain.

But, nine or so years on, it remains that only a few forward-thinking organisations lead the way in embracing slick electronic alternatives. The majority, particularly in developing regions in India, Russia, Africa and parts of Asia, Latin America and the USA, stick relentlessly to their legacy analogue actions. For them, the fax and telex remain dominant.

One example of the new pioneers is thoroughly modern Qatar Airways Cargo, which has quickly become the world’s third largest international cargo airline. The Doha-based carrier has released a mobile app, which offers instant ease and convenience to the cargo airline’s customers by having all relevant information at their fingertips on their mobile devices.

The QR Cargo app (pictured below, left), which is available for both Android and iOS devices via Google Play Store and Apple App Store, provides detailed status of shipments, and customers can use it for a range of searches such as flight schedules, office contact details, product descriptions and more.

Paper: from the ridiculous to the sublime

“It is linked to our in-house Cargo Reservations, Operations, Accounting and Management Information System (CROAMIS), which provides real-time data and updates for each logistic milestone achieved direct to our customers,” enthuses Ulrich Ogiermann, Qatar Airways’ chief officer, cargo.

The handy development gives QR Cargo’s customers the freedom to access and manage their global business at their convenience and anywhere in the world, night or day. This includes instant shipment tracking, weekly flight schedule search, recent search history, charter service requests, location and navigation services to worldwide offices and many more useful tools.

Customers can track each piece of their shipment with a confidence-giving microscopic view of each stage of the process. A recent-search-history option even allows users to look for frequently-searched shipments, routes or schedules – without having to remember lengthy details such as 11-digit airwaybill numbers or re-type information and pile more paper on paper.

That’s a sublime moment in the history of airfreight – and not a telex machine in sight.

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