Next-generation digital transformation

posted on 28th September 2021
Next-generation digital transformation

CAAS talks to Bernd Struck, senior vice president for UAE Cargo and DWC Airline Services at Dnata, about recent industry developments and local and global initiatives by the Dubai-headquartered handler

What investments and improvements have you been making this year and what benefits will they bring?

Digital transformation
Over the past few years, we have significantly invested in cutting-edge technologies to deliver best-in-class services for customers. As part of our digital transformation, we have revisited all of our processes and support functions to standardise and simplify services and provide the highest possible level of accuracy and transparency to customers at all stations.

Appointment and dock management
Last year, we launched a smart, just-in-time freight handling platform across our Dubai operations. A cloud-based platform, Appointment and Dock Management (ADM) ensures improved planning, efficient processing and end-to-end transparency of the entire cargo journey, delivering significant benefits for all freight forwarders.
ADM enables freight forwarders to book an appointment with the cargo terminal to deliver and pick up consignments. The system considers multiple parameters – such as shipment characteristics, flight details, vehicle types, and other business-relevant factors to determine the optimal slot for delivery or acceptance of goods.
A unique feature of the digital platform is its capability to intelligently predict the duration and suggest an appropriate slot based on the historical behaviour of the forwarders and the flight schedule.
ADM has reduced the average freight handling time at dnata’s cargo terminals by more than 60% to an average of 30 minutes, meeting the industry’s needs for planning and transparency to avoid costly idle time for carriers, freight forwarders and terminal operators.
The platform also allows terminal operators to see demand in real-time, enabling them to plan the required resources and serve customers just in time. The solution coordinates with Dubai Customs to schedule inspection activities, too. Further associated business processes within the cargo terminal are also integrated as part of automated process connectivity.

Next-generation community platform
In addition, we have recently partnered Kale Logistics Solutions to develop a next-generation e-commerce platform for the cargo community in the UAE. The partnership will see us take dnata’s existing platform, Calogi, to a new level to provide best-in-class, one-stop services, including appointment and customs services management, to customers through advanced digital solutions.
We launched Calogi as a game-changer platform in 2008 in Dubai. It offers a comprehensive, highly integrated, cost-effective platform to air cargo supply chain stakeholders, including general sales agents, airlines, forwarders, third-party logistics providers and ground handlers. Built mainly for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), Calogi enables the cargo community to seamlessly trade in a paper-free environment.
Our next-generation community platform will deliver additional benefits for the cargo community. It will connect partners with their customers and authorities on one platform, sharing information in real time among all users. Customers will be able to integrate the platform into existing workflows through APIs and take advantage of all innovative functions while interfacing with their own system. The platform will also help customers simplify existing processes quickly and efficiently, without investing in multiple systems.

What airport infrastructure developments have been undertaken?
We continuously upgrade our facilities and review our processes at our airports in the UAE. To optimise accessibility, we are currently working with the free zones and harbours to integrate our access approvals for trucks into their IT tools, to simplify the process for our customers to enter all the facilities seamlessly.
How did you manage the volatile cargo flows in recent months?
Covid-19 triggered the closure of international borders and restricted aircraft movements, but cargo volumes were more resilient than aircraft turns handled. This was due to increased freighter operations.

To what extent have pandemic-related handling constraints impacted your business?
The temporary closure of country borders due to Covid presented some challenges for some of our staff to return to work from their home countries. The reopening of borders enabled these colleagues to return to Dubai. Staff returning from longer leave are all retrained and updated on processes.

How did the larger numbers of freighters and the introduction of ‘preighters’ affect your business?
In response to the strong air cargo market demand for the rapid, reliable and efficient transport of essential commodities, several airlines introduced additional cargo capacity during the pandemic by using passenger aircraft with seats fully or partially removed from the cabin. To adapt to changing customer needs, we enhanced services, improved processes and trained more than 500 employees to safely and efficiently handle passenger planes carrying cargo only.
We introduced effective procedures across a range of aircraft types. With no existing industry standards to refer to, we built the necessary procedures from scratch in collaboration with key stakeholders, including IATA and several airline customers.
To ensure the procedures were safe, trials were conducted at Dubai International (DXB) using various loading and unloading methods across both narrow and wide-body aircraft. This allowed us to identify the best and safest procedures to serve cargo-in-cabin flights.

What will the return of passenger services and cargo belly capacity mean for your cargo operations?
We are very much looking forward to the return of more passenger flights to our airports. This will likely decrease the amount of cabin cargo loaded and increase the belly loaded cargo on the airplanes – which are a lot quicker to handle and therefore will increase the speed of processing.
During the crisis we consolidated a lot of aircraft movements into Dubai International airport (DXB), including some freighter movements. With the ongoing recovery, freighter handling will gradually return to Dubai World Central airport (DWC) where we have ample facilities.

Has Covid bolstered Gulf/Middle East airports’ role as global cargo hubs?
Covid has led carriers to consolidate cargo transport capacity and has rerouted cargo movements from smaller airports to the larger cargo hubs in the world. This has been true also for our airports.