TECHNOLOGY FOCUS: The year disruptive technology changed cargo – again

posted on 3rd April 2018

2018 will be ‘the breakout year for Bluetooth’, enabling an aviation revolution– as the air waybill revolutionised air cargo almost 60 years ago − predicts Ian Craig, MD of Core Transport Technologies

Since the 1930s, when the US major airlines were founded, air cargo has been an essential and sustainable part of the airline industry. The first flights of all US major airlines find their origins with the carriage of US mail for the United States Post Office. Once the success of the carriage of mail was seen, the public consumer found the use of air transport as a means of shipping goods from point A to point B. This development required airlines to provide tracking and management of shipments tied to their carriage, hence the creation of the air waybill, a unique tracking number with air carrier specific identification and the first instance of a new disruptive technology.

The next major advancement in disruptive technology came in the 1980s, when computing systems were introduced to organize and offer airlines worldwide the ability to track, trace, and invoice for services of cargo shipments. These systems were built with the ability to identify cargo by the unique identifier, air waybill number, and then post shipment status information across the carrier-owned computer network based on manual or human observations − which were rift with human errors.

In the early 21st century, technology in the form of barcode scanning became a reality, the third occurrence of disruptive technology in the history of the air cargo industry. With various derivations from actual scan occurrences to logic scan technology, scan technology again disrupted the track, trace, and invoice functions of the movement of air cargo. As in other previous technology disruptions, scanning still required human interaction in an environment already plagued with labour costs as their highest expense.

In the second decade of the 21st century, less human intervention in the tracking of shipments was viewed as the highest priority, and the RFID age was born. While RFID had many industry experts seeing potential for alleviating the previously experienced labour costs and still obtaining the status updates, the efforts fell short. While the cost for the individual tags may be economical, the technology stations to read them were restrictive and costly. After the first half of the second decade, the emergence of Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) technology became a prevailing solution. Fitbits, speakers, medical monitors, televisions, computers, automobiles, etc., have given the public access to a new wireless technology.

2018 will be the breakout year for Bluetooth LE technology as it will become the 4th ‘official’ disruptive technology for the air cargo industry. Today, companies have developed software and firmware solutions which combined with Bluetooth LE allows for tracking of assets at low cost, low power consumption rate, and distance rates which reduce manual intervention. This industry disruptive technology and its application in the air cargo industry allows for less human intervention (labour costs), and improved accuracy by eliminating the human reporting element.
The applications are currently being applied to the widebody container movements – with associations being made between the tagged container and cargo shipments (air waybills) nested inside them, the new Bluetooth technology opens more visibility of cargo shipments for tracking, tracing, and invoicing. Companies such as Air New Zealand and ACL Airshop are beginning to increase their use of Bluetooth LE − in response to the e-commerce boom and to increase their customer’s experience.

Thus, how do the developments of 2017 (and 2016) affect 2018?  Imagine the internet in 1995 and how advanced consumers felt that technology was. Now we have smart phones, smart TVs, and an internet that far surpasses its creators’ dreams. The developments made in connectivity and adaptability within networks in the past two years are allowing Bluetooth LE to continue its growth and paradoxical change to the technologies and processes of the air cargo industry. We are about to experience an aviation revolution, the same way the creation of the air waybill did almost 60 years ago.