Adopting e-AWB tougher than flipping a switch
Few airfreight companies dispute that embracing the e-Air Waybill will benefit business. Companies and experts point to the e-AWB’s advantages and the need for the industry to accept it.
But getting to the point of total e-AWB adoption is another hurdle.
The air cargo industry’s slow migration toward electronic documentation led the International Air Transport Association to revise its internal deadlines for a second time. In December 2013, the organization announced that it is now aiming for 22 percent e-AWB penetration in 2014 and 80 percent by 2016.
“Everyone appreciates that this is definitely the direction that we need to go, but I think it was maybe underestimated the amount of work that it would take,” says Barb Johnston, senior associate for regulatory affairs at Air Canada Cargo. “It’s not a matter of flipping a switch. There’s a lot of internal processes that need to be established and understood and rolled out.”
Panalpina began its E-freight project in early 2011, nearly three years ago.
“At that time, we thought we were ready, but we had to learn very fast that there are basically three requirements which need to be fulfilled,” explains Jeannette Goeldi, Panalpina’s global head of standards and governance, airfreight. “First of all, you need to have an IT landscape which supports that. Secondly, you need to be able to produce electronic data quality. And thirdly, you need to have the spirit of E-freight within your organization.”
In its first year, Panalpina had different projects focused on IT landscape, such as investment in a new electronic filing system that allows access to documents in real-time all over the world.
Air Canada did work on its IT legacy system and enhanced the booking portal for cargo shipments, Johnston says. Shippers can now make e-bookings with the airline.
Delta Cargo created the position of director of e-commerce in order to concentrate on initiatives such as the e-AWB, hiring Sharon Poindexter to fill the role in September 2013.
Delta Cargo can accept e-AWB in any market where it’s available, Poindexter says.
Cathay Pacific started its e-AWB project in 2008. Since implementation, data quality has improved, says Jackson Chan, cargo services manager E-freight at Cathay Pacific Cargo.
Chan talks about an unexpected result from e-AWB adoption. At the airline’s Hong Kong hub, forwarder customers tender their cargo in the airline’s warehouse and then prepare their e-AWB. The forwarder pouch is the last document tendered to the warehouse, which forced the airline to staple the printed AWB onto the pouch.
“Cathay Pacific has experienced a large number of missing or mishandled forwarder pouches in year 2012 and 2013, which raised a lot of complaints form our forwarder customers,” Chan says. “The issue has finally been fixed in December 2013 by introducing barcode printing and scanning on both AWB and pouch label, which can help to match and ensure cargo, AWB paper (if exists) and forwarder pouch are shipping together.”
Poindexter of Delta discusses how e-AWB adoption requires a process change on the customer side. The airline must show customers that it is a worthwhile initiative that also improves efficiency for them.
“What we’re finding is that there are airlines at different points in the adoption process, which makes it difficult for some of our customers,” Poindexter says. “They’ve even said to us that right now, they need to understand if this is something that is going to be an industry-wide initiative or is this something that some companies are taking on and others are not.”
She draws on her experience in the auto industry. When e-commerce first came out, one of the challenges was convincing the retailers to adopt it, she says. Now they all do it.
Poindexter believes air cargo will experience a similar trend.
For Lufthansa Cargo, the first step of the airline’s E-freight plan was to replace the paper AWB with an electronic one, says Mario Zimmermann, head of technology and innovation at the carrier. He held responsibility for Lufthansa’s global e-AWB rollout until Thorsten Friedrichs took over in January 2014.
“Lufthansa Cargo already introduced the e-AWB in our worldwide station network. However, many countries are not yet ready for accepting an electronic AWB, mainly because of security and customs reasons,” Zimmermann says.