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IATA pushes deadlines for E-freight again

By Martin Roebuck on December 12, 2013

The air cargo industry’s slow migration toward electronic documentation has led the International Air Transport Association to revise its internal deadlines for a second time.

Guillaume Drucy, head of cargo e-business management at IATA, told a media briefing at the association’s headquarters in Geneva that penetration of e-Airway Bills was 10.2 percent as of October, just half IATA’s previous target. IATA is now aiming for 22 percent e-AWB penetration by 2014 and 80 percent by 2016.

Drucy said the adoption of the multilateral e-AWB agreement in March, allowing airlines to connect with multiple forwarder customers on standardized terms, had removed a major obstacle and would accelerate take-up. By October, 53 airlines and 411 forwarders had signed up, covering 79 percent of the potential AWB market from the carrier perspective and 41 percent in respect of airfreight forwarding.

The reality is that commitment will be needed from customs authorities in large airfreight markets such as China, previously resistant to electronic declarations, if IATA is to achieve 80 percent e-AWB penetration on its revised three-year timeline.

Drucy accepted that Mainland China was not yet open to electronic documentation. However, he and Des Vertannes, IATA global head of cargo, had recently met senior Chinese customs officials and the influential president of the Shanghai Airport Authority, and had received assurances that E-freight was at the top of their agenda.

“Chinese Customs are going step by step but aim to introduce electronic declarations by 2015,” he said. “Guangzhou is making good progress, we have done a pilot project inbound into Shanghai and we’re planning an outbound pilot. It doesn’t mean the whole market can suddenly open up, but it is helping define how e-messaging will be implemented.”

Customs officials in emerging markets such as India still prefer physical invoices, packing lists, manifests and AWBs that they can stamp, Vertannes said. IATA’s approach was to instill an e-environment at one airport, in this instance Delhi, then gradually extend the principle to other major gateways such as Mumbai, which is still entirely paper-based.

Vertannes admitted that in many airlines, if the cargo department asks the main board for an E-freight project manager or funds to upgrade its IT systems, it is “told to focus on next kilo of revenue, the next cent of costs.” The forwarding community feared complexity and the scale of investment necessary, he believed, but leading forwarders sounded out by IATA revealed a range of differing opinions on how the industry can achieve its ultimate goal.

“There is no doubt that our industry has to become more paperless. Airlines have to engage with forwarders and create more benefits for them to drive e-AWB and ultimately E-freight,” Michael Blaufuss, senior vice president airfreight at Agility Logistics, said.

“We expect airlines to support the single process, ensure proper system capabilities and provide automated shipment visibility. We are looking for a proactive approach from the airlines to implement a global rollout plan including points of contact for us to work with,” Lucas Kuehner, Panalpina’s global head of airfreight, added.

DB Schenker was more supportive.

“There is only so much an airline can do to encourage E-freight,” Tom Mack, senior vice president and global head of airfreight, said. “It is also a responsibility for the forwarding community to develop and continue to roll out E-freight globally. I do see that as a shared responsibility.”