Point of View

Sustainability in Air Cargo


How long do we have to wait to initiate decarbonisation efforts?

We can't make enough sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). There just isn't enough feedstock. Even by 2050, if we rely on existing raw materials, we'll only have half the SAF we need to meet demand [1].

How can the sector get serious about decarbonisation now, while we're still waiting for a solution to the SAF shortfall?

By decarbonising the bits of the business that don't run on SAF. And one of the best ways to make an impact on your emissions right now, is by optimising your air-freight operations for sustainability. 

Why air cargo? Why now?

The race is on to decarbonise the aviation sector. IATA has committed the industry to hitting net zero by 2050 [2]. But investors, shippers, freight forwarders, regulators and consumers all want to see progress on decarbonisation, as early as possible.

And if you want rapid meaningful results — the kind you can include in an annual report — airfreight is one area that can be looked at seriously.

Few ways in which airlines can reduce emissions on freight transportation include:

  • Switch to using lightweight packaging and unit load devices (ULDs)
  • Eco-friendly infrastructure that includes sustainable power and energy-efficient technology at airport terminals, ground operations.
  • Go paperless, or near paperless, by using e-freight platforms.
  • Improve aircraft and cargo-space utilisation.
  • Optimize routes for maximum efficiency and minimum empty miles.

As per a survey done by The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) last year, 64% of air cargo executives say that customers are now demanding action on decarbonisation [3].

With the right approach, and the right technology, airlines can cut cargo emissions in their operations.

Legacy technology is making decarbonisation harder

How can you reduce emissions if you can't measure them? Clearly, you can't.

Many airlines still rely on legacy air-freight-management platforms. These systems don't have the tools they require to monitor and track emissions.

Because they don't easily connect to supplier and partner systems, legacy platforms are also poorly adapted for tracking emissions across the supply chain.

Airlines need a robust, agreed and reliable methodology for measuring supply chain emissions. And they need technologies sophisticated enough to put that methodology into practice.

And those systems need to be flexible enough to give shippers and forwarders continual access to the data that they need to report on their scope 2 and 3 emissions.

Can digitisation help support on the road to decarbonisation?

The answer is to move to modern, API-based freight booking systems, ability to mine data and produce meaningful reports that can be accessed and tracked real-time. Using such systems, these operators can optimise for emissions efficiency, whilst also optimising for increased revenue, lower costs etc.

They can build the latest emissions measurement standards into their operations. And they can give customers access to the data they need to meet their emissions and decarbonisation targets.

Digitalisation is a major step towards an emissions strategy that will realise immediate gains in sustainability and set the airline on the path to emissions compliance targets.

With the right platform, airlines can:

  • Optimise a wide range of variables for lower emissions, without introducing negative externalities or unintended consequences.
  • Ensure that optimisation for lower emissions also has positive impact on cost, customer experience and other key metrics.
  • Accurately track and report your results to key stakeholders, including external stakeholders such as customers or regulators.

With the right freight-management platform, you can optimise load, route, utilisation rate, and a range of other variables to consistently reduce emissions.

The right platform will also prevent conflicts. For instance, if you manually optimise for maximum cargo-hold utilisation, some items of cargo could end up traveling longer distances than necessary.

The right platform will optimise for utilisation, cost, distance and emissions. Each cargo item will follow the route that delivers the best possible balance of these, and other relevant variables.

What next?

IBS is one of the industry's leading developers of modern, API-enabled and data-driven freight-management platforms. IBS can help you seamlessly transition your air cargo operations to run on streamlined digital systems that not only optimise for improved efficiency but also allow you to start reducing emissions right away. 


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