Several years after the International Air Transport Association or IATA launched its e-freight initiative, there are signs that computerized paperwork for air cargo is finally entering the mainstream.
“Airlines are increasingly prepared to offer e-freight,” says Arnaud Fryda, head of e-freight development at SDV in Paris. “They want to meet the IATA targets.”
The IATA plans to have 100 percent e-freight by the end of 2015. That’s a tough target since just four percent of Air Waybills, the most important documents in air cargo transport, were digitalized by the middle of this year.
Still, there are signs that airlines are adopting the technology needed to take electronic documents on board. SDV, for example, now offers e-freight business with four carriers - Air France, Emirates Air Lines of Dubai, Germany’s Lufthansa and Swiss Air - to destinations including Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong and Canada.
The introduction of e-freight comes at a time when airlines face rising challenges including customer demand for speedier services, lower costs and greater reliability. Weakened by slow economic growth and falling revenues, airlines are now hoping to boost demand with substantial gains in efficiency.
Removing cumbersome paperwork will certainly give the airline industry a competitive lift, shaving 24 hours from transport times by reducing the documentation load, according to IATA estimates.
Cutting the airlines’ paper-based processes will also reduce the cost of air freight, says Fryda. He estimates that one cargo plane carries documents weighing over 30 kilos.
Reducing the weight of paper has other, environmental, benefits. E-freight will eliminate over 7,800 tonnes of paper documents, according to the IATA. That’s the equivalent of 80 Boeing 747 freighters filled with paper.
E-freight offers a more reliable service because electronic documents lessen the chance of entry errors, notes Fryda. They comply with international and local regulations required by customs, civil aviation and other regulatory authorities.
Sending electronic documents also increases the accuracy of data and reduces delays to shipments caused by incorrect or inconsistent information. « Electronic documents are less likely to be misplaced, so shipments will no longer be delayed because of missing documentation, » says Fryda.
Data entered electronically also allows for improved real-time tracking of shipments, he adds.
For now, e-freight can only be used for certain documents such as the packing list, invoice and import cargo declaration, Fryda notes. It cannot be used for the certificate of origin or the declaration of dangerous goods, for example. Some countries, such as Russia, and many African countries still do not accept e-freight, he says.
SDV launched e-freight in 2008 and has so far reached agreement with four carriers. In July, SDV ranked number nine of the top ten freight forwarders using e-freight, according to the IATA. Fryda now hopes to sign one e-freight agreement every month with a new carrier. The next agreement will be with Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific, he says.
By the middle of next year, SDV expects to carry out 30 percent of its shipments with Air France by e-freight compared to around eight percent today.
“E-freight will help speed up shipment times,” says Fryda. “At the moment, freight spends too much time on the ground.”