Replicating the success of Brussels Airport’s data-sharing community initiatives at airports outside Belgium may be harder in practice than it might initially seem. But one way or another, solutions for the UK airport’s landside congestion challenges may be emerging, writes Will Waters
The success of Brussels Airport’s efficiency-building and community-building BRUcloud cargo data-sharing platform has not gone unnoticed internationally, and its technology provider Nallian is now also working with Heathrow Airport in order to improve communication and efficiencies among its cargo stakeholders. And although solutions to address challenges such as the truck congestion suffered around the airport’s notorious ‘horseshoe’ cargo area may be emerging, replicating the Brussels Airport cargo community example may be harder in practice that it might initially seem, if the experience so far of Heathrow Airport is anything to go by.
Indeed, as a source at the airport recently bluntly expressed it: “It is very difficult to replicate what Brussels has achieved when freight forwarders don’t want to engage and airlines delegate to their handlers.” But while some of the original intentions of the Heathrow CargoCloud initiative pursued by the airport and Nallian have not gone entirely to plan, certain other initiatives have been showing signs of progress.
After more than a decade in which the airport neglected to offer any meaningful leadership on the cargo side, three years ago it reinstated the role of head of cargo, appointing Nick Platts to develop a cargo strategy and help facilitate improvements in cargo processes and infrastructure in and around the airport. He has been working on a number of initiatives, including through engagement with a “senior stakeholder transformation steering group”.
Alongside the Heathrow CargoCloud initiative, supported by Nallian, to create a data-sharing platform from which various apps can be created to help improve communication, data flows, and cargo flows, plans include a remote truck park area that the airport believes is needed to reduce congestion, and an associated ‘call-forward’ digital project to connect this truck park with the airport’s cargo handling warehouses and instruct truck drivers when to deliver and pick up loads.
But while Heathrow’s airport cargo community appears on one level to be keen for the airport to take a lead role, ingrained habits of self-sufficiency, independence, and a certain level of cynicism mean that developing a collaborative and cooperative relationship between the airport and all its main cargo stakeholders may take some time.
This may go some way to explaining the initial poor take-up of the CargoCloud initiative. Heathrow launched the platform last May, inviting trucking companies and freight forwarders based around the airport to use its ‘load consolidation app’ to consolidate freight loads coming into and out of Heathrow, “to improve efficiency, but also reduce the number of trucks and emissions on the roads surrounding the airport”. It said companies that subscribe to Heathrow CargoCloud would be able to exchange and share information about any spare capacity on their vehicles, or on a load they need to be transported. The app would then work to match them, with companies then contacting each other offline and discuss the opportunity.
But more than a year later, there has been no take-up, acknowledges Platts.
“The CargoCloud is ready; however, we’ve had no-one sign up for the Load Consolidation App despite our offer to subsidise the first two years’ worth of fees. So we’re reviewing the other available apps and discussing with the community about which to make available next.
“The Load Consolidation App remains available should someone wish to join. I’m not sure we’ll deploy the Slot Booking App, but it is part of the Call-Forward project, so we’ll be assessing it shortly. We’re considering how best to connect the remote truck park with the cargo sheds – one of the options would be to use electronic methods.”
Although the load consolidation app received no take-up, one air freight trucking company, Goldstar, has taken on a new load-consolidation function. Goldstar Heathrow has received approval from HMRC to conduct a three-month trial of providing a ‘milk run’ service for imports. The model involves Goldstar collecting multiple consignments from a single shed (ITSF − internal temporary storage facility) and delivering them out to multiple forwarders’ locations (ETSF − external temporary storage facilities).
“There are a number of requirements which Goldstar has had to invest in to satisfy HMRC (UK Customs),” notes Platts. “From my perspective, I’m very happy to be supporting the trial and will continue to work with Goldstar Heathrow on innovative ways of reducing vehicle numbers in Heathrow Cargo areas.”
Nallian CEO Jean Verheyen acknowledges that it is very difficult at first to create sufficient momentum within a cargo community initiative, noting: “First you have to build trust and the motivation to participate.” That was achieved at Brussels Airport through the gains achieved from the slot-booking app, and he believes the same can happen at Heathrow, in time.
Advance Information System
But in the meantime, a separate initiative with similar aims has already been gaining traction. Two years ago, CCS-UK User Group – an association representing users of the UK’s air cargo community computer system, CCS-UK – announced that it was starting work on a new module to enable freight agents, and transport companies working on their behalf, to pre-alert handling agents of loads being delivered and picked up, down to House AWB level, as well as submit electronic consignment security declarations (e-CSD).
Via this Advance Information System (AIS), information – including vehicle, driver, cargo being delivered, handling agent and ETA – would be submitted prior to a delivery or pick-up of cargo at the airport either through a web portal or messages sent direct from the forwarder’s own system. The information would then be accessible to all relevant parties in the supply chain – on a need-to-know basis.
By receiving this information electronically in advance, the aim was that handlers would be able to populate their systems with the shipment information, reducing paperwork and delays on arrival of the truck, and eradicating re-keying errors. And by obtaining advance warning of cargo en route, handlers would be able to anticipate workloads, schedule resources, and allocate handling slots for the trucks, which would, in turn, help to reduce the number of vehicles at the cargo terminals and cut queue times.
Well-documented peak-time delays around some of Heathrow’s outdated cargo terminals have been a fact of life going back years, the association observed. Lack of on-airport truck parking, narrow approach roads and tight manoeuvring space for today’s larger articulated vehicles frequently lead to long truck queues backing up onto the airport’s perimeter road, and trucks and drivers tied up unnecessarily for hours, it noted.
Over the last year, AIS has been extensively trailed using live data and although still subject to ongoing development, it is already in use at a growing number of hauliers, handlers and forwarders. And several cargo stakeholders that have used AIS have praised the system, claiming it is “transforming” the delivery and collection of freight at the airport’s congested cargo areas.
CCS-UK User Group says the AIS module is steadily gaining traction within the Heathrow Airport cargo community, and that wider use of the information tool will help further improve cargo handling efficiency at the UK’s largest airport.
The AIS module is free of charge for all CCS-UK subscribers, which number around 900 forwarders, cargo terminal operators and airlines. CCS-UK User Group chairman, Steve Parker, expresses some surprise that AIS has not yet gained full take-up, noting: “All AIS requires (of users) is a modest change to ways of working. It’s hard to understand why many are still holding back, as AIS is free of charge, and its widespread adoption will help everyone in the community.”
He adds: “With the uncertainties surrounding Brexit around the corner, leading to the possibility of more complex procedures and even dramatic increases in traffic, now is the time to take all possible steps to streamline the UK’s air cargo industry, which will become an even more vital trading tool. So, we hope the success of AIS to date will inspire much greater take-up in the next few months.”
Programme director Guy Thompson says that although the use of AIS from the handler side has so far mainly been by Dnata, all the other cargo handlers at Heathrow are indicating a willingness to support its use – with the exception of IAG Cargo, which has a separate cargo terminal at Heathrow and is far less affected by congestion around the ‘horseshoe’.
CCS-UK User Group had proposed its solution to Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) after HAL last year issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a so-called ‘Call Forward System’ to help solve the issues at Heathrow. HAL subsequently decided not to proceed with this, instead choosing a solution proposed by Nallian, the Heathrow CargoCloud, based on the success of the BRUcloud programme at Brussels Airport.
‘Off the shelf’ requirement
CAAS understands that one pre-condition of the tender was that the solution had to be ‘off the shelf’, and at the time of the tender, AIS was not available as an off-the-shelf solution. Furthermore, the expectation was that when AIS was projected to be ready, around April 2018, that it would only deliver about half of the functional requirements that had been defined by a community working group led by the Airline Operators Committee for Cargo UK (AOCC UK), an association representing a large number of airlines and associate organisations that make up the Heathrow cargo community. As well as looking for an advanced information and e-CSD filing capability, CAAS understands that HAL and AOCC members wanted the sheds to be given the ability to control the flow of vehicles rather than continuing to allow vehicles to arrive whenever it suited the driver.
Although the CCS-UK User Group had reportedly nonetheless expressed an interest in working with HAL on its project, CAAS understands that HAL’s tender procurement rules meant that it was not allowed work with CCS-UK User Group on developing AIS.
But commenting on recent public information about the development and progress of the AIS system, Platts, told CAAS: “Any tool that helps the community work better together is very welcome and, of course, the more companies that are involved, the better the outcome; so I’m looking forward to the full functionality of AIS being deployed and linked in with the other digital tools we have.
“Sharing data between stakeholders needs to become the new ‘norm’, so I am encouraged by the growing acceptance of data sharing platforms rather than direct messaging. For me, the best outcome will be one that links all of the stakeholders involved in cargo – not just freight forwarders, airlines and shed operators but also logistics providers, airports and estate owners too.”
Because Heathrow Airport itself is not a member of the CCS-UK User Group, and has not been actively involved in development of the AIS, Platts notes: “We did share with CCS-UK all of the functional requirements developed with the community as part of our previous call-forward (digital) project and what we believed was needed to reduce congestion – such as access control to Shoreham Road and right-in-time deliveries and collections.
“Heathrow is working closely with (cargo area landlord) Segro on a remote truck park now that we have a suitable site identified and AIS will be considered alongside our own CargoCloud as part of that project, because we recognise there needs to be some form of link between the remote site and the sheds. My team have been meeting with the community to understand how we can adopt new ways of working once the truck park goes live – CCS-UK User Group have been included in that engagement.”
Thompson tells CAAS that it is clear from talking to freight forwarders that they do not want multiple systems: for example, one for the horseshoe and another for Dnata. “They only want one portal, not a multitude,” he says.
And he notes that AIS does have a call-forward capability, as well as a system where handlers can instruct hauliers “to come now, or come in 30 minutes, or don’t come”. Thompson adds: “Our system is clearly the basis of a call-forward system. And by the time they (HAL) get anywhere (with developing its plan for an off-airport lorry park), AIS will be well used.”
AIS was recently presented to UK freight forwarding association BIFA and to the AOCC and was well received, Thompson notes, adding that its functionality can and will be further improved.
Thompson says that the lack of take-up for the Nallian-backed load-consolidation initiative is not so surprising, noting: “It (load-consolidation) only makes sense for bringing in freight internationally or from another airport, not if you are bringing in cargo from Feltham, where your journey is only 15 minutes. And a lot of forwarders use hauliers that are already consolidating loads.”
But he also believes that persuading companies to implement a new system is going to be much easier for an organisation such as the CCS-UK User Group with deep local knowledge and connections than for a company coming outside the UK cargo community. “Implementation is the toughest part − trying to understand the issues that come out of it, and sitting on companies and trying to get them to use it,” he explains. “It is a huge undertaking, getting implementation of something that is not mandatory.”
In the meantime, the airport has put in place a number of plans to help minimise congestion in the short term. “We led the development of a peak plan for Easter, which we’re replicating for the current peak season,” observes Platts.
Among the initiatives within that peak plan, which was developed in consultation with a group of senior stakeholders from across the industry, “it was agreed that the community would try to load and unload vehicles within an average 20 minutes; sheds to reinstate a door for ‘smalls’ where possible; hauliers to send pre-alerts for HGVs collecting more than half-full loads; sheds to check for short counts and damage prior to vehicle arrival − provided the pre-alert was received,” Platts explaines.
Stakeholders also agreed that ‘sheds’ – cargo handling warehouses − would publish their peak times of the day, so hauliers can adjust their ETA to avoid peak periods, and for sheds to advise of their preferred processing windows for the delivery or collection of empty ULDs.
“Heathrow agreed to provide additional traffic marshals and police, provide traffic management and additional capacity at control posts,” Platts notes. “Over Easter, I only heard of one issue of congestion − which was cleared within an hour by the traffic marshals and police − compared to over 40 last winter peak.” nnn