Liege Airport’s first WeCargo event on innovation in the air cargo industry drew a huge crowd on 14 November. The focus was on how to exchange data for the benefit of all. The event more than surpassed expectations, emphasized LGG’s VP Commercial Steven Verhasselt, as the airport’s original forecast was some 100 participants, while eventually over 400 attended to get first-hand information on new cargo developments.
Airport CEO Luc Partoune said that WeCargo was the first and so far only event in the industry to tackle innovation, bringing together start-ups which, at first, had no idea whatsoever about the
industry. “In spite of this, they are able to come forward with new ideas,” Mr Partoune said.
On the occasion, Liege Airport signed a partnership agreement with Qatar Airways, Alibaba Cloud and Orange Belgium. QR Cargo is the airport’s second largest client. The agreement is an extension of the existing collaboration, stated Mr Partoune.
Industry needs to modernize itself
In his keynote address Qatar Airways’ Cargo Officer Guillaume Halleux restated the fact that the air cargo industry is still operating in an old-fashioned way. “Our industry is retarded. We still do business like we did 20 years ago, while the rest of the world has moved on,” Mr Halleux said. “We still carry a pouch full of paper.”
The reason for this is that the industry remains too fragmented, he said. “That is due to the fact that part of our industry, the freight forwarding part, is still based on two elements: the capacity in the market and the ignorance of the shippers. But the momentum is there.”
Compared to passenger services, the differentiation in the cargo product is limited, Mr Halleux said. “Our largest differentiator are the people. We want to do business with people who understand us and who do not want to rip us off.”
Data information translated into knowledge
Alibaba Cloud, the technology subsidiary of Alibaba, presented their Artificial Intelligence platform which - according to Liege’s management - has the skills and experience needed to transform, digitise and support the Belgian airport’s operations and handling procedures.
Jintong Zhu, director of Data Intelligence Product Alibaba Cloud, said that the Big Data needed are already sitting in the database, making up a smart city solution. At Alibaba’s home base Hangzhou Airport, a dense network of cameras is monitoring every aspect of the airport. The information gathered is then translated into knowledge, that can be applied in every aspect of the airport processes, including fueling, cargo loading, handling and transport. “But it takes a long process to translate data into knowledge,” Mr Jintong said.
It is no secret that LGG, where waiting times at some handling facilities are part of the growing pains, is keen to implement systems that will help to smooth out as many obstacles as possible.
Internet of Things - a future solution?
Another stakeholder in this respect is telecom, hence the partnership with Orange. The provider and Liege Airport will work closely together to decide which cargo activities to study and which technological solutions will be implemented, said Orange CEO Michaël Trabbia. “These case studies will serve the operators and businesses working at the airport.”
Eventually this may lead to the introduction of the Internet of Things to the airport, was the hope expressed by LGG’s Cargo and Logistics Development Manager Bert Selis, when moderating one of the panel discussions: “At a certain moment the transport box will have to say where and when it wants to go.”
“Above all,” stated Moritz Clausen of the air cargo booking platform cargo.one, “customers expect efficiency, convenience, and tailored service.” This is offered by the Berlin-based startup thanks to their electronic booking tool that gives forwarding agents access to real-time prices and available capacities of multiple airlines. Booking a shipment online is accomlished within seconds, he said, making faxes and emails redundant.
LGG’s Cargo and Logistics Development Manager Bert Selis added to this that the partnership with Orange will bring 5G opportunities to the airport, enhancing the machine to machine communication.
“Open data as a key to success” was the topic of another panel. Nallian’s CEO Jean Verheyen said that connectivity as such is not the big problem. “We have to convince people to open up their data. We must give them the opportunity to benefit from data sharing and leave them to decide with whom they want to share the data.”
A facilitating intermediary such as Brussels Airport can play an important role, said Sara Van Gelder of the airport’s BRUcloud. “The question is on how to create that community. The apps we have developed take away an operational pain. Once they are used, they generate more. We as an airport help the stakeholders take the first steps. We act as a custodian on the data.”
Adrian Kosowski of the ‘Institut de Recherche en Informatique Générale (IRIF)’, an IT research lab linked to the Paris University, advanced the idea of looking for the use of data for customer relationships. “The main blocker will be the lack of trust in the data that is out there in the public domain.”
The event was concluded with the ceremony awarding both the ‘Acceleration Programme’ for start-ups and the ‘Hackathon’ for air cargo logistics related solutions. The winner in the first category was ESNAH, which has developed hardware and software solutions to support decision makers with advanced business intelligence. The company focuses its expertise on using data and communication efficiently, reliably and in real time between pilots and airports.
The Hackaton was won by HEC Liège which developed a GSE Pooling solution: a mathematical model forecasting airport equipment use in order to optimize it, based on data measurement.
Marcel Schoeters in Liege
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