ACHL Conference Report: The Changing World of Air Logistics

posted on 21st September 2023 by Eddie Saunders
ACHL Conference Report: The Changing World of Air Logistics

Will Waters reports from the 14th annual Air Cargo Handling & Logistics Conference this week in Athens


The 14th annual Air Cargo Handling & Logistics (ACHL) Conference commenced this week in Athens with a series of ‘Innovation Showcase’ presentations highlighting leading-edge initiatives and developments within airport cargo logistics operations.


Consistent with this year’s conference theme, ‘The Changing World of Air Logistics’, ULD Care’s Bob Rogers unveiled the industry association’s E-UCR app – developed and fine-tuned over the last year to digitalise and track the movement and location of unit load devices, particularly those moving outside of the airport “reservation” to the control and facilities of freight forwarders.


The need for such a system was identified more than a decade ago, but efforts back then to include non-airline players in the ULD transfer process were hindered by the still widespread use of legacy IT systems and associated EDI systems not suited to participation by non-airline parties. But in the last few years, the rapidly changing availability of technology triggered this new attempt to create an app-based, paperless ULD control receipt (UCR) system. 


One aim is to bring back into use the estimated 8% of airline ULD fleets that are currently out of circulation at off-airport locations at any one time, and bring greater accountability for their location, status and condition. The e-UCR app has been initially tested by KLM Ground Services and is currently being tested operationally by Emirates for three months, first in Dubai and then in other locations, with Eva Air also set to begin testing operations.


Transforming the landscape

Hans van Schaik, sales director for SACO Airport Equipment, outlined how the airport equipment specialist had partnered with intralogistics and parcel-handling automation specialist Alstef Group to develop a one-stop-shop offering end-to-end automation of air cargo handling processes. The aim is to fully exploit within air cargo the various technologies already available outside of the airport cargo environment, including augmented reality, automated guided vehicles, IOT sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.


Using the extensive various technologies already available, the intention is not to offer a standard solution, but to talk with customers about their specific needs and solutions, van Schaik explained.


Jin Li, CEO of iTran, outlined how his organisation’s software has significantly improved the efficiency of various air cargo handling and warehousing processes – for example, improving driver dispatch efficiency from less than 22% to 36%.


‘Quantum annealing’


Caroline Woodland and Sharon Huang from Unisys described new innovative solutions to optimise logistics operations and businesses. Using powerful technologies such as ‘quantum annealing’ it will next month launch a ULD optimisation solution capable of reducing ULD build-planning time from hours to seconds. The product is currently being pilot tested by MASkargo. 


Yuval Baruch, CEO of Hermes Logistics Technologies, unveiled the Hermes Learning Management System (LMS), a “first of its kind“ online “self-service” training tool designed to make learning about air cargo processes and Hermes’ cargo management system (CMS) “simple, intuitive, and effective”. Baruch said the industry’s current main training method, a train-the-trainer approach, was inadequate and led to knowledge limits, inadequate support for the training process to continue, leading to “constant loss of knowledge”, decreases in service quality, reduced use and effectiveness of the company’s systems, and subsequently higher staff frustration and turnover. 


In contrast, the LMS approach, developed over 1.5 years, was more cost-effective and flexible, self-paced, and allowed role-defined training. It ensures Hermes users “can undertake regular training and maintain a consistent level of knowledge, enabling them to take full advantage of the functionalities and operational benefits of the Hermes CMS”, Baruch said, leading to “more-knowledgeable staff, faster and improved onboarding, and more efficient software implementations.” As well as raising standards, it also allows greater ability to standardise airlines’ and cargo handlers’ quality and operations, Baruch noted.


Next up, Vitaly Smilianets and Tristan Koch from Awery Aviation Software outlined the development of the aviation software company’s CargoBooking digital sales channel from a ‘white label’ digital booking solution used by individual GSAs to market and distribute their capacity, to a free-to-use online marketplace. The latter has been launched initially in South Africa, and around 20% of South Africa’s air cargo capacity is now available on the platform, Koch said. This marketplace model will be rolled out in other markets, for example in Europe.


Means, method, and motivation


Last, but not least, Unilode’s Bas Vermeer outlined the journey to improve visibility of ULD movements through digitalisation, and various lessons on the way. He said what needs to come together, using a tennis analogy, is the means (racquet), method (training) and motivation. He says the digitalisation part is “just the means”; and while that needs to be excellent – for example, leading IOT technology – that is of limited use unless it can be integrated in the GHA process and there is sufficient motivation among all stakeholders to participate.


“That is why we have been redesigning our approach,” he said. “I think the most important thing is the motivation. There are many reasons the airline wants to have better visibility” – for example, get more use from its assets.


Vermeer concluded: “Digital visibility is the means to give value creation, and the key to a successful implementation is to make that (value creation) visible.” That involves a ‘stick and carrot’ approach, emphasising accountability, a focus on value, logistical improvements, and digital services. 


Panel discussions


These ‘Innovation Showcase’ sessions were followed by a series of panel discussions, some of which will be covered in subsequent conference reports. These included a review of the key goals from last year’s event – notably for companies to implement or adopt digitalisation and digitised solutions within their processes to circa 60-70% of company activity – and identify barriers preventing these goals.


Other sessions focused on how to identify, encourage and develop diverse talent. And in a linked theme and session, panellists discussed attracting young talent and enhancing the appeal and incentives to attract and retain the next generation of air cargo industry professionals – noting that to effectively attract young talent, organisations need to adapt their strategies and offer compelling incentives that resonate with the aspirations and expectations of the younger workforce.

– Will Waters