The market for air freight throughout the world is expanding rapidly. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world’s airlines’ trade group, the industry grew at its fastest annual rate since 2010 in 2020. The IMARC Group, a market research firm, forecasts that this market will increase from $270.3 billion in 2021 to $390.7 billion in 2027.
Shipments of protective gear and medicines were primary factors in the rise in demand for air freight during the epidemic. Later, with the advent of robust e-commerce expansion, the volumes continued to rise steadily.
The need for unit load devices, or ULDs, is expected to rise as the volume of air cargo increases. (They’re the pallets and containers used to ship goods across the globe by aeroplane.) Fortune Business Insights, a research and consultancy organisation, predicts that annual expenditure on ULDs would rise to $2.67 billion by2027, from an estimated $1.98 billion in 2020.
Taking on a lot of weight
The IATA estimates that there are one million ULDs in circulation, each having a unique identifying code printed on the waybill, consignment notes, and the trip number. We can now monitor the whereabouts of all packages thanks to the data provided.
Many modern flight operations are digitalized, thus the path of ULDs may be tracked as they are loaded, unloaded, and transferred between planes. Several airlines now utilise GPS tracking devices to keep tabs on their ULDs. As a result, aviation cargo operations are simplified.
However, not all ULDs have been digitised. Once cargo has reached its departure location, most transport companies, cargo operators, and ground management teams cease tracking. This prevents carriers from having access to data that may improve the safety and consistency of the global supply chain. Similarly, unless they are monitored manually, ULDs may go unnoticed while they are on the tarmac, in a warehouse, or elsewhere.
Because of this, safety concerns have been raised. “ULDs are the only aircraft components that leave the authority of the airline, return after passing through several uncontrolled hands, and effect flight safety,” says the International Air Transport Association.
According to LATA, ground service companies are often tasked with managing ULD operations. As a result, “critically tough for airlines to oversee and supervise the safety compliance in ULD operations,” as one analyst put it.
Transforming Cargo Equipment into a Digital Asset
As a result, it’s clear that ULDs need to be digitised even more. Radio frequency identification (RFID), worldwide system for mobile communication (GSM), and global positioning system (GPS) have all presented difficulties in this regard. Start-up and maintenance costs for any of them may need expensive infrastructure.
Scanners used for radio-frequency identification (RFID) are often limited in range since the frequencies used for such technology may not be practical at an airport terminal. Also, both GPS and GSM rely on batteries that drain quickly, so they constantly need backup.
Connectivity is at the heart of yet another pressing problem with ULDs, as are the expenses connected with fixing them or getting rid of them. According to the IATA, these expenses total $400 million each year. It is possible that empty ULDs may sit in storage facilities unused for extended periods of time due to the lack of network-wide awareness. Because of this, airlines have a harder time keeping track of their inventory, which may increase prices and even result in flight cancellations.
Finding workable digital solutions is crucial because they can track ULDs in real time, no matter where they are in the globe. A promising strategy involves installing wireless sensors on ULDs. The sensors may record data that improves tracking and can be shared by airlines with their partners. As time goes on, this may also be used to automate demurrage procedures, leading to faster asset turnover and more efficient asset usage.
Air cargo fulfilment is aided by the integration of demurrage automation and tracking systems, which reduces the financial impact of a temporary scarcity of shipping resources. Digitalization may be of great assistance to airlines by decreasing the number of lost assets, improving capacity matching, and decreasing the expenses associated with lost or stolen equipment or the need to lease replacement assets.
Not only can the location of an item be monitored, but also its temperature and humidity, which might be crucial for perishable commodities. Flight delays and cancellations, as well as misrouted, misloaded, and lost shipments, are all major problems that may be avoided with proper tracking. It also aids in optimising resource use and reducing unnecessary expenditures.
Synergy between AIs
Potentially fruitful applications for artificial intelligence (AI) may be found in ULDs. It may help with operations planning and load optimization, as well as predicting when flights will take off. Cloud computing data may also be utilised to improve inventory management and the monitoring of ULDs. To recover ULDs from unauthorised users, knowing their current, precise locations is crucial.
The end goal is improved ULD visibility in the air freight supply chain. Because of this, shipping will become more efficient, and goods will be delivered more quickly, cheaply, and securely.
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