Despite historic arguments about who benefits from new tech and therefore who should pay for it, the reality is that we all benefit from stronger, digital supply chains, as well as greater efficiency in warehouses and on the ramp, says Hactl chief executive Wilson Kwong
COVID taught us some valuable lessons about the need for business resilience. Our first priority was to enable our admin staff to continue working from home, so we upgraded our WAN resources and issued notepads to all staff. We upgraded bandwidth, servers and security. We also revised all processes to eliminate paper, and to facilitate management authority without personal contact or physical signature. Training was transferred to online.
Recent moves such as the introduction of paperless, personal-device-driven ramp and aircraft loading processes, have been very helpful in making us more efficient and responsive to customers. This has been important since the COVID crisis has caused an increase in freighter operations, an increase in ad hoc flights, and the need to respond to late bookings and amendments to manifests.
Very recently, we have launched our new, multi-million-dollar iHCC (Integrated Hactl Control Centre), which centralises all management processes and monitoring for our entire operation from truck arrival through to aircraft departure. Graphic displays show the location of every ULD, and AI-based technology enables us to predict and respond to workflows, and manage unexpected peak workloads. The iHCC also acts as a command centre which will enable better response to any future crises.
Streamlining processes and throughput
Hactl has continued with its constant drive for greater efficiency, and we feel we are now ahead of the game. It’s very clear to us that the elimination of paper and its replacement with digital systems and information flows is the answer to most of the industry’s challenges: this is especially the case with the growing e-commerce boom, where end-customers demand instant tracking info, and e-tailers want to know about stock levels and locations. We may be well ahead of ocean freight in terms of speed and reliability, but this is no reason for complacency.
We have had historic arguments about who benefits from new tech and therefore who should pay for it, but the reality is that we all benefit from stronger, digital supply chains, as well as greater efficiency in warehouses and on the ramp. Those who resist investment and change will gradually lose their competitive edge.
Having said that, it would be good for the industry if the generally better profitability of air cargo, led by more realistic freight rates, could be shared around the industry, to encourage greater investment. That’s particularly necessary in ground handling, where what we do has a vital impact on the quality of services provided by airlines.
Apart from the obvious gains in efficiency, service quality and reduced costs, new tech – specifically robotics – will help the industry to overcome the constant challenge of recruitment. It will also help us to mitigate the impact of any future pandemic or ongoing restrictions in the present one.
Expectations for 2022
With the gradual recovery of the global economy, the growth in e-commerce, and the ongoing woes of the ocean sector, everything looks positive for air cargo at present – and that’s likely to continue into 2023 at least. Freighters are already playing a much more important role in our industry, as is cargo as a whole. We will see many more freighters joining the global fleet – both newbuilds and P2F conversions – and this again looks set to remain the case for some time to come.
Cargo has been the poor cousin of aviation for many years, but we have hopefully now achieved better recognition of our huge importance to the global economy. And I hope that equates to more newcomers viewing our industry as a career and joining it, as well as better financial rewards for those companies and individuals who are already involved. In the very negative overall scenario of 2020 and 2021, this could be the positive legacy for 2022 and beyond.