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Is the Electronic Airway Bill stuck in transit?

Is the Electronic Airway Bill stuck in transit?

Shipping cargo by air may be the fastest way of transporting goods, yet airlines and freight carriers are lagging behind when it comes to using new technology. The industry's use of outdated legacy systems and apparent lack of appetite for change has led a former CEO of IAG Cargo to describe the sector's inefficiencies as 'bordering on the criminal'.

Although the industry is showing signs of a positive step change, progress on initiatives like IATA's electronic airway bill - e-AWB - is sluggish. This paperless document was first floated by the IATA Board back in 2004 and even now, E-AWB penetration is just touching the 50pc mark.

There are many benefits of the e-AWB. A shipment can generate up to 30 paper documents and processes such as track and trace rely on human intervention. According to IATA, every year, more than 7,800 tons of paper documents are processed - that's the equivalent of filling 80 Boeing 747 freighters with paper.

However, IATA's plan to take paper out of the supply chain isn't soaring. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Costs aside, shippers need to develop a system that sends electronic messages for every single document that accompanies a shipment.
  • Many of these documents do not have a single globally accepted message standard, adding further complexity to the process.
  • Some smaller shippers use the freight forwarder as their shipping department. The onus is then on the forwarder to develop the paperless system, which they may be understandably be reluctant to implement.

The solution could lie in sharing scanned documents, whether paper or electronic, live or archived. Too many carriers are weighed down by paper handling and a document archive procedure that still involves them being photocopied and microfiched. Not only is this process time-consuming, it's also expensive and doesn't make for effective collaboration with trading partners.

Swissport Cargo Services handling operation used to take more than 2.5 million photocopies a year with microfiching costs exceeding £35,000. On top of this, the process of sending the documents to microfiche could take up to six weeks, during which time the archived documents couldn't be accessed.

The IT Team at Swissport approached us here at Transputec for a resolution to this problem several years ago, and we developed for them a cutting edge document storage and retrieval system which we now call SHIELDIntelefile. This bespoke scanning and retrieval solution is based on recognition of unique AWB numbers.

Now, instead of waiting six weeks for a document to be archived, retrieval is instant for Swissport and its trading partners. Anyone can search for and access the database of scanned AWBs from a PC desktop. Moreover, unlike photocopies, our high-quality scanned images adhere to cargo reporting compliance and if necessary, are fully admissible as court evidence, including critical documentation contained within the 'Captain's pouch'.

Put simply, SHIELDIntelefile can enhance your air freight business and provide full legal compliance for your freight documentation, while driving down costs. Contact us at Transputec and we would be happy to provide more information to you.

Shalen Sehgal
Services Director

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