A starting point for selecting a digital air freight platform  

Online platforms are growing in numbers as well as in importance to shippers and logistics and transportation providers alike. As the focus on this technology grows, stakeholders are working to navigate available options to determine which platform best fits the needs of their supply chains. 

For the small-to-medium sized shipper, these online platforms can help level the playing field in regards to competition and in terms of cost savings. However, much of the initial focus of platforms has been on ocean freight. Now we are seeing a number of platforms that are either specifically focused on air cargo, or are expanding into it. 

Although most platforms  serve similar purposes by offering all involved the ability to quote rates, book, ship and in an easy manner, the software powering the platforms can vary.  Market research company Logistics Trends & Insights  has conducted numerous surveys to not only confirm the importance of visibility, but also the critical need to manage capacity and rates. These needs extend across the supply chain and includes all modes of transportation.  

The evolution of platforms for air freight 

Around three years ago, online platforms began breaking into air cargo and have since grown in number and capabilities. 

In 2016, Freightos, originally focused on ocean and land freight, acquired WebCargoNet, which maintains a database of global air-freight rates. Earlier this year, Freightos’ WebCargo acquired Air Freight Bazaar, a regional air cargo rates and sales platform based in Chennai, India. Combined, WebCargo now has over 1,700 forwarder customers. Then in April, Air France KLM Martinair Cargo partnered with WebCargo to offer live rates, assess capacity and secure cargo bookings on specific flights to forwarders. Since then, IAG, United and Sinotrans have also signed onto the platform. 

Another third-party platform is Germany-based Cargo.one that works with airlines and forwarders, like Freightos, to manage booking and marketing of air cargo capacity. The company also offers dynamic spot rates. Lufthansa Cargo invested in the startup and since then a number of companies have signed up for service including Agility, Hellmann and JAS on the forwarding side and Finnair Cargo, AirBridgeCargo and CargoLogicAir on the airline side. 

And then there is Oslo-based Xeneta. Not intended to be a platform to book and manage freight but instead, Xeneta provides a benchmark and market intelligence platform for ocean and air freight rates. The company’s air freight benchmarking solution is only a year old but Xeneta notes in a blog post that the air freight market suffers from the same volatility and uncertainty as ocean freight. 

Xeneta takes a unique approach in their rate benchmarking. In terms of ocean freight, the company gathers the latest global shipping data from a community of over 700 shippers, covering more than 160,000 port-to-port pairings and over 35 million contracted rates. A similar approach is done for air freight rates. 

Beyond these major players, forwarders, 3PLs, brokers, transportation management systems (TMS) and global trade management systems (GTM) are also providing their own transportation rates, including air freight – as well as other similar capabilities such as booking and managing freight. 

Need-to-know points for platform selection 

So, how does one decide what platform to use? The answer to that question is similar to how one decides on a traditional 3PL, forwarder or carrier. Do your homeworkresearch the various options and consider the following: 

  • Trade lanes – What trade lanes are available? 
  • Are rates and services door-to-door or port-to-port? 
  • How are the rates determined and how often are they updated? 
  • Who is moving the freight and what is their on-time delivery rate? 
  • What are the payment and insurance options? What level of transparency is the invoice? 
  • What level of visibility is offered for managing and tracking shipments? 
  • Are there temperature-controlled options? 
  • What happens when something goes wrong? (bankruptcy of carrier, high jacking of cargo, natural disaster that impacts the movement of freight etc.) 

There are certainly more questions to consider but the best way to evaluate online platforms is to simply test them with a basic shipment. In addition, many shippers often utilize more than one platform depending on needs and requirements. 

Moving forward, expect more platforms to be introduced and for those that are in existence to likely expand their reach in terms of lanes, modes of transportation as well as service offerings such as data analytics and reports. 

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Cathy Roberson

Cathy Morrow Roberson is an analyst with deep experience across the transportation and logistics business. Cathy is the founder of Logistics Trends & Insights, which provides strategic supply chain research and analysis. She also writes a weekly column for Air Cargo World. Previously she worked for a logistics research firm, an internet consultancy and UPS Supply Chain solutions. At UPS she was instrumental in the initial set up of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, as well as its further development. Cathy began her career as a librarian, primarily managing research departments for several libraries. Her experience spans projects that cover product development, market analysis, customer service, M&A due diligence, freight forwarding operations and has in depth knowledge of the global freight forwarding, logistics, technology and e-commerce markets. She is also active in the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Cathy has a BA in History from Winthrop University, a Masters in Library Science from the University of South Carolina and an MBA in finance and marketing from Mercer University.