IATA has reported that the volume of e-Air Waybills in February 2020 was 877,959. This amounts to a penetration of 67.8% considering the total amount of 1,294,923 AWBs.
In other words, 416,966 shipments have been rendered in the old paper format. To some this may seem a success, to others a failure.
A look behind the scenes reveals that these numbers have been sugar coated, as Uwe Glaser, President of Vienna, Austria-based forwarding agent Cargomind, claims in his thought-provoking contribution, encouraging a critical discussion. How is that possible? Here are Mr. Glaser’s explanations:
Because IATA has based this report on submissions from 42 major airlines, says Mr. Glaser, and the numbers reflect e-AWB messages originating from freight forwarders, but also messages
originating from Ground Handling Agents (acting on behalf of the airlines). Thus, he maintains, the penetration achieved by the freight forwarders is significantly lower.
How much lower? Between 50% and 60%, the manager estimates. However, considering the hurdles and outdated technologies that freight forwarders are confronted with, the ratio is still remarkable.
When airlines discuss the e-AWB penetration figures shown above, they usually blame the forwarders and accuse them of a lack of interest. A common blame-game, Mr. Glaser says, emphasizing that the forwarding community is generally in favor of reaching a 100% penetration. However, if the airlines are serious about e-business they need to rethink their present approach.
To better comprehend the difficulties freight forwarders are facing, we asked Mr. Glaser to specify the hurdles and challenges he speaks of.
In his contribution, the Austrian agent names 15 main obstacles and limiting factors hindering the industry in achieving a higher e-AWB penetration (below).
After receiving Mr. Glaser’s input, we contacted IATA who have responded with Glyn Hughes’, Henk Mulder’s and Ariaen Zimmerman’s views further elaborated in “The digital cargo environment.”
1. Obstacle: Type B Messaging
The character code that airlines use to exchange messages, goes back to the Baudot Code and the International Telegraph Alphabet from 1932. It is restricted to capital letters ranging from A to Z, digits from 0 to 9, and three punctuation marks.
Freight forwarders that frequently store their data in Unicode are compelled to convert each character into the character codes of the airlines.
2. Obstacle: The CargoIMP Message Format
The format and content of the messages was developed eighty years ago for the exchange of messages between airlines.
This, today, results in limitations with regard to the party addresses or other details of the shipment and therefore CargoIMP messages are an incomplete presentation of the agreed contract.
The Air Waybill message “FWB” exists in 17 versions, and most air carriers use Version 13 upwards for their messages.
According to IATA (Henk Mulder), 95% of all messages today are exchanged in CargoIMP format.
3. Obstacle: Transmission of Messages
Third parties cannot reach the communication network of the air carriers easily.
To communicate with the airlines, you need a “SITA” address, which is assigned to air carriers, airports and affiliated companies only.
The transmission of the messages lies in the hands of two companies: SITA & ARINC, which each exchange 25 million messages per day for the airlines.
4. Obstacle: Communication Platforms
Since the airline’s communications networks are not accessible directly by the freight forwarders, they must transmit their data via 3rd party vendors offering generic communication platforms.
These communication platforms have a two-fold task. They direct the incoming messages to the airlines, but also ensure that the version of the FWB message transmitted to them is “backwards compatible.”
In addition to the gymnastics required to exchange data with the air carriers, the freight forwarder is still held responsible for the proper functioning of the communication platforms.
5. Obstacle: e-AWB as Contractual Basis
Airlines strive to replace the Paper Air Waybill by its electronic equivalent and give it the same contractual status.
To achieve this, the freight forwarder must first sign the “IATA Multilateral e-Air Waybill Agreement”. In doing so, he declares that the electronically transmitted message forms the sole basis for the transport contract.
Then the forwarder has to find out which airlines accept the e-AWB and further - at which airports - and request permission from each individual carrier to use e-AWBs. If this request is approved, the freight forwarder receives an “activation notice.”
6. Challenge: Punitive Charges by Airlines
Freight forwarders who still insist on issuing Paper Air Waybills have been threatened with punitive monetary charges.
For example, Lufthansa charges up to €49 to forwarders refusing to switch to electronic communication.
In cases where the forwarder made the booking electronically and transmitted the Master and House Air Waybills electronically, Lufthansa still demands a fee of €1 (a reimbursement of the costs Lufthansa has to pay to the communication platforms).
7. Challenge: Lufthansa AWB Punitive Monetary Charges
8. Challenge: CargoXML Message Format
The existing limitations of the CargoIMP format can be avoided by a broad and large conversion to the CargoXML format.
The change has been agreed and IATA released a handbook in 2014, which described the conversion of all necessary messages to the CargoXML format.
Sadly, the adoption of the new format seems to be of little importance to airlines despite the obvious advantages:
- Coding is defined by the Unicode Standard
- Universally used and accepted Standard
9. Challenge: Communication Protocol
The airlines’ interest lies in safe and secure data transmission. This might be the reason why the carriers originally refused to allow freight forwarders to use direct communication.
However, modern communication protocols are available which do provide a safe data exchange between airlines and forwarding agents.
Among others, the Applicability Statement 4 (AS4), was recommended by the IATA Subgroup “e-TAG” in 2014.
10. Obstacle: Sharing Messages with GHA
Airlines regularly neglect to provide the e-AWB information to their handling agents in a timely fashion.
This forces freight forwarders to print the air waybill data on a “Shipper‘s Delivery Note” to enable delivery of the air cargo shipment to the GHA of the airline.
This puts an end to the “paperless process.”
Consequently, the electronic confirmation of the delivery milestone “FOH” cannot be produced in real time.
11. Challenge: Message Quality
IATA complains that in 450,000 cases annually, the electronic message does not show an identification of the freight forwarder. These faults are wrongly attributed to the forwarders.
The reason for this, is that the airlines receive messages generated by their GHA, which they consider more meaningful.
Airlines often consider messages incorrect but fail to provide any reason.
12. Obstacle: Airline Selfishness
Up to now, data exchange in the cargo industry has been designed to benefit the airlines primarily, if not exclusively.
The e-AWB saves the airlines time and effort in transferring data into their operating system.
However, there are no tangible advantages for the freight forwarder. They must absorb additional costs and have to deal with additional workloads.
Moreover, no one has considered the possibility of redesigning the processes in air freight shipping to become more efficient and serve all parties involved.
13. Obstacle: CASS “Hot File” Charge
CASS produces a “hot file,” an electronic data file, which lists all transactions processed for a given billing/settlement period and is designed to be loaded directly into a forwarder’s accounting system to facilitate billing reconciliations.
One can only wonder why the same organization that so persistently demands electronic messages from freight forwarders, would charge a monthly fee of €50 to provide a forwarder with this electronic data file.
An electronic invoicing message, which could be automatically processed by computers, is no longer desirable, it is mandatory.
14. Challenge: Finding Space and Rates
Airline systems have become more sophisticated.
Pricing tools are designed to drive revenues, consider average load factors, booking situation, supply and demand and more.
Therefore, freight forwarders must transmit booking requests by email or inquire online with various airline systems.
An electronic booking request and confirmation of the offered prices would make sense.
15. Challenge: Door to Door Visibility
This is the most common request air freight shippers keep asking for.
The challenge is to motivate freight forwarders, haulage companies, ground handling agents and airlines to share data in a timely fashion for the benefit of visibility.
An interest group of freight forwarders and airlines named CargoIQ aims to provide this information.
However, there are shortcomings in participation and in technology, which require serious improvement.
Mr. Uwe Glaser built the Cargomind Group from scratch and developed it into a multi-national player with 25 offices in Central and Eastern Europe as well as China. In addition to his primary professional task of securing the well-being and success of his company, he works on a voluntary basis in the Airfreight Institute of International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), founded 1926 in Vienna, Austria, representing an industry covering roughly 40,000 forwarding and logistics firms, employing around 10 million people in 160 countries.
Compiled by Heiner Siegmund
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