Globally, the air cargo industry clocked a massive 2 quadrillion kg-km as per World Bank statistics for the past year. Meanwhile, IATA confirms that while the year 2016 saw growth doubling by volume, the first half of 2017 has been the strongest ever for the industry so far in this decade. Confidence levels are tremendously high within industry circles, although public perception may have taken a hit from the headlines surrounding Simon, a highly prized rabbit who met his end in the cargo hold of a prominent global airline earlier this year. While the exact cause of the animal's death remains unknown, the incident is a burning cue for the industry to evaluate how it handles live cargo such as pets.
Consistent with the unit economics of the trade, airline cargo is synonymous with high value and therefore comes with a high level of expectations in service levels. Approximately 35% of all global trade value takes the aerial route, but when it comes to these special consignments there is a larger quantum of sentimental value at stake. In such a highly competitive, high margin market, a small mistake (regardless of the statistical significance) can lead to loss of customer goodwill and result in a major hit to revenues. The industry is in desperate need of new cargo products that can deliver customization without compromising on scalability.
Designing such a product must necessarily begin from three well defined priorities:
1. Customization of model parameters
For long, the cargo industry has operated on the basis of extensive standardization of its products to ensure scalability irrespective of the exact nature of the consignments. A tremendous demand is emerging for special services such as environment control and other sustainability aids including those associated with live cargo. A customer shipping his 4 ft tall pet dog should be allowed to specify a set of parameters different from a biologist who is shipping an 8 ft long anaconda for research purposes, rather than consigning them both as "large live animals" and then following a generic rule book to get them through the journey. How should the animal be supervised? What bodily metrics (temperature, heart rate, etc.) must be measured, and what are acceptable limits? What kind of human intervention is necessary and at what stages of the journey?
IATA guidelines go into some detail regarding the safety of animals/birds in general, but are largely non-committal when it comes to specificities. This is where a cargo services provider gets the opportunity to innovate on what the product is capable of. Linking capabilities to cost, as well as clarifying what the product cannot handle, would result in better product fitment to the needs which can be served most effectively.
2. Continuous monitoring for anomalies
Once the customer signs off on the set of parameters upon which the live consignment is to be observed and scrutinized during the journey, there immediately opens up another prospect for enhancing customer engagement with the shipment. Whether the customer is physically present in the same aircraft as a passenger, or in a remote location awaiting the arrival of the consignment, it makes sense to give him/her a certain level of transparency in how the cargo is being handled. For instance, a misplaced container could result in the animal dying from starvation or thirst after exhausting the limited supply of food, unless steps are taken for proper replenishment in light of the new situation.
On one end of the spectrum would be a continuous live camera feed of the animal/bird in cargo, but a more practical approach would be providing dynamic, real time information about each aspect of the prescribed handling model. With the right kind of sensors in place, a simple app on a mobile device would suffice to deliver data and highlight anomalies. Visible physical damage is of course the most obvious indication of an anomaly, but constant monitoring of the heart rate, body temperature and other metrics would also provide tangible indications and act as triggers for additional human intervention if required.
3. Automation of issue detection and handling
Traditionally, issues that cropped up in the cargo handling process were handled manually, on an exception basis. Does a ULD look broken? Then let's take a closer look. Is the animal not moving? Let's get a vet to check it out. Predictably, the heavy reliance on human observational powers led to high failure rates, which are intolerable when it comes to live cargo. A well designed sensor-monitor network provides the intelligence required for ensuring high levels of cognizance about the condition of each piece of cargo and also ensures compliance to service levels by raising alerts if any previously agreed parameter was not checked off in a timely manner. In other words, rather than making amends for unfortunate incidents, the system is able to predict faults and enforce intervention where necessary.
Radhesh Menon heads product management and strategy for IBS' offerings in the Airline Cargo Services line of business. In this capacity, he is responsible for short and long term product goals, competitive benchmarking, product roadmap and innovation practice. He is also responsible for running the product community model. He has over 16 years of experience in the air cargo and logistics business systems in air cargo, industry best practices and new industry initiatives.
Radhesh played a pivotal role in conceptualizing and developing the blueprints for IBS's new generation product line for air cargo management. He was instrumental in setting up and running the IBS Core Group of Influence (CGI) – a partnership of IBS and several industry leading carriers for the conceptualization of IBS' new generation cargo system - iCargo.