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Digitalisation Acquires Momentum

When it comes to moving large volumes of air cargo, machines seem to have overtaken human ground handling. We investigate the strengths and weaknesses of racing towards the use of Artificial Intelligence.

Abigail Mathias-

Airline companies will embrace new age technologies, while constantly treading with caution, said Chaminda Perera, General Manager, Cargo, SriLankan Airlines. “The airlines and ground handlers continuously seek to expand and improve business performances for which technology, as the largest disruptive force driven by the technological revolution, will be a key factor in companies achieving success in improving performances,” he said.

The end-to-end integration between airlines, ground handlers and other key stakeholders allowed through technology is crucial in evolving the current supply chains to better deliver customer experiences. “Technology-enabled automation of warehouse operations, diversification of products and services, enhanced collaboration and digitalisation supported by capitalizing on the wealth of data retained within the sector will be essential in the transformation of the industry and enhancing the levels of service at airports. Information at fingertips in the present day and age are mandatory customer requirements.”

Thomas Schürmann, Head, Cargo Operations & Delivery, Etihad Cargo highlights the ways in which Abu Dhabi has made the transition. “As part of our ongoing digitalisation journey that we began in 2018, we have implemented many initiatives and processes to ensure a smooth transition from non-technological to technology-based systems. In 2022, we are working on a Proof-of-Concept (PoC) utilizing computer vision and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help ground handlers calculate cargo dimensions. In 2021, we signed a PoC agreement with SPEEDCARGO for automated dimension and volume scanning. Upon successful completion of the PoC and trials, these digital solutions will become practical tools for minimizing leaking and optimizing offload recovery.”

Traditionally, cargo dimensions are measured manually, following a set of universal guidelines. Etihad Cargo plans to replace this manual method with AI to build fully automated 3D load plans and ensure consistent and accurate values are utilized during loading and offloading. Additionally, replacing the manual process of preparing load plans with an automated AI-driven process will enable us to make maximum use of available cargo capacity. While each load plan takes around 30 minutes to prepare manually, we will reduce this to one minute through automation, thereby making the entire process more efficient in terms of capacity and time spent.”

Etihad Cargo is providing ground handlers with the technology and giving them practical tools and training to show them how to build up cargo for loading step by step, which will make the process efficient and reduce human errors.

“We are using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate manual labour processes to achieve efficiencies.” Etihad Cargo is incorporating technology and sustainability to enhance its products. “For example, in our latest measure to make the transportation of pharmaceuticals more sustainable, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with B Medical Systems to develop and launch the world’s first airline-specific passive temperature-controlled container. These containers utilize passive cooling technology, enabling them to retain temperatures from —80°C to 25°C for up to five days with no external power source. The units will reduce carbon emissions, while ensuring pharmaceutical shipments are transported safely at the required temperature. Trials of the sustainable container units will commence shortly, and a commercial launch date will be announced following the successful completion of the trials,” said Schürmann.

Use of drone tech to ease congestion

“Drone technology, initially developed for military use, is increasingly used in varying industries, including the logistics sector. The growing popularity for e-commerce has built a strong case for the use of drones in transportation and distribution of goods. The small autonomous aircraft are considered ideal for use of inventory management in the supply chain, as the commercial use of drones indoors is not regulated. Therefore, drones can be

seamlessly inducted for first mile and last mile integrated to the processes at warehouses, air cargo operations and 3PL facilities. There is also a future for AI inside of automated equipment, where the Machine Learning capabilities would be able to optimize arrivals and departures related processes through studying patterns and analysis of information, which would lead to reduction in costs, reduce environment impact through congestions at ports and allow an enhanced compliance for standards and procedures,” explained Perera.

As per a report by Airport Technologies, AI innovation among airport industry companies has dropped off in the last three months. The figures are compiled by GlobalData, who track patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Using textual analysis, as well as official patent classifications, these patents are grouped into key thematic areas, and linked to key companies across various industries.

New business from airlines investing in digitalisation has helped global freight booking and payment platform Freightos achieved strong growth in the SQ of 2022. Freightos recorded 1.5 lakh platform transactions, resulting in growth of 163 per cent y-o-y in the SQ. Gross Booking Value was US$155 million—up by 137 per cent y-o-y, while the revenue was US$5.2 million—up by 30 per cent y-o-y. AI is one of the key areas tracked by GlobalData. It has been identified as being a key disruptive force facing firms in the coming years, and one of the areas that they invested resources in and are expected to reap rewards later.

The figures provide an insight into the largest innovators in the sector. Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies was the top AI innovator in the airport equipment supply, product, and services sector in the latest quarter. The company filed seven AI-related patents in the three months ending June. That was up from one over the same period in 2021.

The AI-advantage

Sophisticated cargo terminals translate in to ease of traffic volumes. “Technology enables us to process and analyze data to generate reports and dashboards, enhancing visibility and transparency for us and our customers. At Etihad Cargo, we receive a huge volume of data daily loaded into our cargo data lake. We use Microsoft Power BI to process and transform this data to generate business intelligence reports, which our operational teams use to identify any issue/s. Using this info, we can communicate with stakeholders, act where required and improve our processes.

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