The speed and intensity of COVID-19 took the airline cargo industry by surprise. Reduced capacity clashed with a sudden, unprecedented increase in demand in some specific trade lines.To make matters worse, it was accompanied by a severe lack of onsite workforce. Digitization that was considered a necessary future option suddenly became the ‘must have’ for the present. Digital solutions were developed and implemented with incredible speed, and existing platforms were designed to accelerate collaboration. This swiftness in response seems to have paid off.

Global cargo volumes, in terms of Cargo Ton Kilometers (CTKs), grew by 12 percent in April 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic performance in April 2019. Global demand as of May 2021 rose 9.4 percent over the corresponding period in May 2019.

Digital is an Imperative

A simple shipper-to-consignee journey in an air cargo shipment involves the movement of at least 30 types of documents and 124 copies of paper. Be it in optimizing routes or tracking deliveries, this industry is significantly driven by data. By breaking down data silos and digitizing services through applications, cargo airlines can improve the efficiency of operations and transform CX.

Digital interventions and advanced analytics enable everyone to access real-time data to invoke trust — a core component of CX — and drive hyper-personalization. From monitoring shipments, forecasting volumes, tracking labor consumption and productivity levels to identifying delays and breakdowns, digital technologies help in driving real-time decision-making.

Automation for Enhanced Efficiency

The crux of operational efficiency lies in simplifying complex processes, improving outcomes and scaling operations easily. Intelligent automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) ensure instant data capture (including text and image), and bring speed, accuracy, scale and reliability inoperations connecting various stakeholders. For example, Singapore ground handling company SATS and technology research center TUMCREATE have developed the world’s first AI-powered robotic arm cargo system, Speedcargo. Comprising of three components — cargo eye, cargo mind and cargo arm — this system optimizes cargo acceptance and palletization through intelligent Unit Load Device (ULD) planning and packing. It also improves operational safety and security. Such process efficiencies ultimately lead to superior CX across the logistics chain.

The future, if anything, will be more fluid, and real-time communication and information accuracy between partners, stakeholders and customers will be crucial for success. In an era where information is exchanged at the speed of thought, digital technologies will enable air cargo companies to meet the surge in demand and stay relevant to their customers in an otherwise volatile environment.

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