A commentary by Markus Flacke
We asked Markus Flacke, a renowned expert on digitalization, to compare Mr. Glaser’s and IATA’s standpoints, and give us his view on the state of data messaging services and the status of e-AWB penetration. Here is his assessment:
I have to admit, it surprises me that IATA’s monthly publication of e-AWB figures and penetration still manages to provoke a response as strong as the one by Mr. Glaser. Contrary to Mr. Glaser’s
point of view, I would like to argue that the actual number of electronically transmitted shipment data is, in all likelihood, higher but not recorded in the IATA stats because of a missing
specific e-AWB handling code. As an industry that is used to working within strictly defined regulations, it does not surprise me that the same diligence is applied to recording the e-AWB
statistics – however, I am convinced that the overall state of digitalization within the industry is higher than indicated by a 67.8% e-AWB penetration rate.
It seems an almost natural reflex to turn one’s attention to messaging when one is trying to identify the main obstacles that hinder the progress of the e-AWB. However, this may be misguided and beside the point: yes, SITA Type B messaging is a challenge - not necessarily because of its technical limitations, but rather because it is a costly way to communicate. Whether CargoIMP or IATA XML provide the best message format is, to some degree, an academic discussion. The same goes for the cargo communication platforms whose role has been discussed back and forth to the point where people argued that they have become obsolete and should be substituted by direct connections.
New paradigm of easy data exchange
One could go on and regurgitate every single argument of a discussion that has lasted for the better part of the past 20 years – however, I believe that the industry as a whole has moved on and has concluded that the digital cargo environment has become more flexible and dynamic than anyone could have foreseen when the e-AWB program started. The new paradigm of easy data exchange and sharing has universally been adopted - also within the air cargo industry – most prominently exemplified by the rise in freely available airline APIs (Application Programming Interface) for booking and rate requests, but also by accepting that data comes in many forms and shapes, which has turned the leading cargo community system providers from “guardians of the right standard” into flexible data exchange facilitators.
Many roads lead to success
So, everything is well and good? Of course not, there is still a long way to go, e.g. one could argue that standards defined by IATA (e.g. IATA XML) should be made available in an open source format rather than a chargeable license model, the e-AWB contractual basis should be revised and made compulsory for IATA members so that there is no pick and choose, compulsory data sharing between IATA carriers and appointed IATA GHAs (ground handling agents) in order to avoid data re-entry, and, last but not least, applications need to be designed with flexible data interfaces in mind. Here I can see a real raison d’être for IATA: Securing that the defined standards and recommendations remain as light as possible, allowing for flexible adoption in the digital cargo environment, fostering data sharing and encouraging companies to create new solutions along the air cargo supply chain.
Leading the discussion back to messaging and associated non-implementation of IATA recommendations (e.g. AS4) is in many ways outpaced by the dynamics of the digital economy. Or, to stay in the picture: “The e-AWB Fairy Tale” will not be resolved with a magic wand or by a single dragon tamer! Many roads will lead to success as long as we agree that it must be easily possible to cross from one lane to another irrespective of the type of vehicle used.
Markus FLACKE joined the air cargo industry in 2001. He has been working in various functions at Lufthansa Cargo AG, was Managing Director for CHAMP Cargosystems’ Cargo Community Platform TRAXON cargohub, and has - as Head of Product Management at Unilode Aviation Solutions - won the IATA Air Cargo Innovation Award 2019 for the company’s digital transformation program.
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