Lise-Marie Turpin became the vice president of cargo at Air Canada in April 2012. She has worked in the airline’s cargo division since 2002. Turpin spoke with Air Cargo World about the industry’s emissions debate and Air Canada’s technology initiatives.
What do you think the ramifications are of the on-going emissions debate for the air cargo industry?
I think this industry takes the issues very seriously and is engaging the various regulatory bodies about it. I think we’re trying to build a unified front so that our voice is heard in that we’re all looking for reducing emissions. Everybody understands the importance of that, but what are the alternative solutions that are viable today, that are economically viable? …We’re looking for one model that would be agreed upon because what you’re having now is you have different states or different areas that are coming up with different standards and different ways of measurement, and we don’t have clarity yet on methodology. And there needs to be discussion on how you’re going to measure emissions in a standard way, and that’s what’s missing right now, and that’s what’s causing confusion. So I think if we as an industry have a stronger voice as we have had with other issues to try and get the attention of government to agree on a methodology of measurement, then we’ll be in a good place. And I think that our industry will seek out new ways to reduce CO2 emissions. We’re already in that path, and we’re probably ahead of a lot of other industries. It’s just that how do you do it in an economically viable way? What are the alternatives? And we are going towards greater fuel efficiency. We’re going to lighter-weight aircraft. We’re going to lighter-weight equipment that we carry in the air. So I think we’re doing more than anyone because it’s also in our economic interest, beyond environmental interest, to get a handle on this.
What are the latest technology trends in the air cargo industry?
I think the doors are now open for the e-Airway Bill to take off. In fact, given the fact that we have the multilateral agreement signed off, which is huge – it was probably our biggest stumbling block – so [now] that the path has been cleared, I really feel that from a carrier and from a forwarder perspective, that there’s a willingness to get on with it and to embrace e-Airway Bill, which is a really good news item for our industry because it puts us into the data world. It puts into better quality information, better quality data and really drives efficiencies and cost-saving gains… I think we have a good foundation as to what we need to do as an air cargo industry in terms of basics, but one of the things that we need to do is make sure that we’re able to provide good quality service…but also at a reduced cost. We need to make sure we’re as cost-efficient as possible. And one of the hurdles we need to get over is that right now, we’re very labor-intensive, and we’re being asked to do more from a regulatory perspective. So on the one side, our customers are demanding higher level of service from us, which is totally what they should be doing. At the same time, you have the regulatory bodies that are asking us to do more, which adds cost to our cost pile without actually giving us a benefit in our business. It enables us to be secure and safe and to comply to regulatory requirements, but it doesn’t really do anything to our profitability. It adds to our cost pile. So as an industry, what do we do? How do we bridge that gap? And I think technology is the way, so we need to find ways that we are going to be more efficient so that our people are engaged in more value-added work as opposed to doing rudimentary transactions that could be done if you had used technology differently.
What is Air Canada doing specifically?
On that front, we’re working on three different technologies…While we think we have a good grasp, a good foundation, on moving shipments as booked and arriving on time, we want to make sure…when the shipper or customer tenders the freight and the time that he can pick up the freight, that we’re able to shorten those gaps so that the time the freight is in our custody is diminished. So to do that, what do we need to do to our processes, and can you apply certain technology to shorten those times? One example was one product that we’ve got up and going now called iRamp, which was developed with a vendor called Katlyn. It is a dispatching tool that allows us to manage the way we run freight from our facilities to the aircraft and back again in real time so that we have better use of manpower, better deployment and we actually improve quality of service by having a better view of where the freight is, what is going out, what’s coming in and managing that whole dispatch piece…The second one is called iLinks, and this is providing our employees with a very simple, lightweight scanning solution, so it’s not revolutionary in itself, but it’s the solution that is very low-cost. It’s using an Apple device, an iPhone device, that’s been stripped of its functionality. We’ve actually enabled it to interface with our operation system in real time, so as we’re scanning, we’re real-timing, to our operating system, so there’s no delay. It’s just greater visibility, real time. It’s immediate, and it’s very user-friendly, so our employees are favorable to it…The last thing that we’ve been working on for a number of years and that we’ve talked about is our [radio-frequency identification] technology, and that we’ve developed with a company called Franwell, and we’re in the very final phases of launching live on our Montreal-Frankfurt route. And this is real time tracking of shipments at the piece level, and this is quite unique. I don’t know if anybody else is doing it. And we’re going to be using that in combination with iLinks to provide better tracking and real time tracking for all of our shipments.