Necessary innovation

posted on 4th March 2021
Necessary innovation

Roger Samways, vice president commercial for American Airlines Cargo, believes a renewed focus on digitalisation – ‘born out of necessity and the agile mindset we all had to develop last year’ – will allow companies to streamline work, launch solutions, adapt and provide capabilities to meet customer needs

Whilst 2020 was tough in a number of ways and the situation resulting from COVID-19 created challenges for everyone, it also helped underscore the importance of air cargo and presented unique learning opportunities that will benefit us for years to come. We’ve seen tremendous innovation in response to the issues we faced, including the development of cargo-only networks, carrying cargo in the passenger cabin, the launch of new products and the approach to vaccine distribution — just to name a few.

As we move forward in 2021, I believe the learnings from last year will benefit us in several different ways. For starters, our focus as an industry upon digitisation will grow. We will begin to make even more progress (finally!) in an area we have talked about for decades. This renewed focus will be born both out of necessity and the agile mindset we all had to develop last year. At American, we recently finalised the implementation of our new technology platform. Unfortunately, we were faced with making substantial reductions to the size of our team due to the pandemic; but leveraging this new platform to streamline our work, launch solutions, and provide self-service capabilities will be essential in allowing us to continue to adapt and meet customer needs.

Robotics Process Automation
Technology and innovation often go hand in hand, and I believe we will also see an increased focus on innovation. The ability to make rapid changes through technology – simply being more prepared to ‘try new things’ – will be a key tactic as we adapt to what the year brings. At American, we began to leverage artificial intelligence and Robotics Process Automation to support capacity forecasting and shipment profiling. This effort has helped offload busy work, empowering our teams to be more efficient.

Partnerships across the industry will also become more important this year. While we hope for a quick industry recovery, the likelihood is that most airlines will be operating smaller networks with less capacity for some time. Demand is still robust, however, and we need to work together as an industry to grow networks and increase capacity to meet customer needs.

More efficient booking models
Last year taught the world about the value of cargo capacity, and this year will continue to underscore its importance. We need to move away from inefficient booking models and build new practices which support carriers receiving more accurate booking information. This will lead to better capacity utilisation, improvements in service and, ultimately, increased customer satisfaction.

For many passenger airlines, cargo will play a larger role in making network planning decisions, in the short term at least, as airlines seek to benefit from the current environment. Many passenger carriers – American included – have used cargo-only flights to support resumption of passenger service. This will be increasingly important in 2021 as passenger demand hopefully begins to recover.

Despite its challenges, 2020 paved the way for us to be more effective, and I look forward to seeing how the industry evolves as a result.