Digitalization in the air cargo industry is an important driver for efficiency, simplification, lowering costs, and better use of resources and existing infrastructures. This creates new opportunities for business and has the potential to change the way cargo and traffic flows can be organized and managed in the future. Trade has long been the driver of economic growth of any nation. Any new system demands on-time delivery for which trade needs to be faster and more reliable. Digitalisation in the air cargo industry is important for efficiency and cost reduction. 

Digital logistics is the buzzword and it is exciting to gauge the mood of the industry players towards the gradual changing scenario of the industry. Taking an endeavour towards this, Air Cargo Forum of India (ACFI) organized a day-long conference on the theme – “Air Cargo – Digitization to Digitalization” at Hyatt Regency, New Delhi on 5th February, 2020. The conference brought together prominent players from the air cargo fraternity, including government, other regulatory mandarins, and various profound industry specialists from across the stream of air cargo landscape. The presentations, sessions and discussions gauged the mood of the industry, how they can capitalize on digital opportunities to adapt, upgrade, and enhance all aspects of air cargo and thus, leading to the growth of the industry. 

Lightening of the lamp followed by an energetic and futuristic video on digitalization of air cargo industry, Yashpal Sharma, secretary, ACFI set the tone of the conference, throwing light on the key objectivities and activities, achievements of ACFI, saying that knowledge & research, process simplification and skill development are the pillars of ACFI. “The growth of Blue Dart came from digitization,” said President of ACFI Tushar K Jani, adding, “The industry needs to understand GST, supply chain inventory management, only then the proper utilization and adaptation of IoT (internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics will come into the picture. We urge the ministries to simplify the procedures at different scales and simplify the cost of optimization.” He strongly focused on spend money on data science.

Vineet Vijayavargia, Partner, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), stated that 90 per cent of the data collected is unused. All industries are promoting it aggressively; however still 75 per cent thinks it is a herculean task. “Speed is the new mantra. There is a need to unlock value of digitalization and take the growth at the next level.” Urged on seamless logistics system, Keshav Chandra, Joint Secretary – Logistics, Ministry of Commerce, shared that companies like Maersk, IBM are approaching different customs and countries. The US has custom clearance through block chain and developing economics will adopt it. Then transaction cost needs to be eliminated and all these steps will help to build national logistics portal. Tahseen Ahmad Khan, Vice Chair, United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/ CEFACT), stressed on facilitation of interoperability, ease of documents transaction during the cross-border trade. “There is a need to have mutual recognition of documents in the electronic form. There is a need to harmonise the digital framework but also the legal framework. The United Nations initiates on cross border paperless trade in Asia and Pacific, signed by seven countries.”   

Dr John Joseph, Chairman, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, stressed upon data privacy and security standards to be high. Single window tool for export import is required. “Freight forwarding industry is the barometer for the Indian economy and it is vital to work together for the national building activity.” While Vandana Aggarwal, Economic Advisor, Ministry of Civil Aviation talked about the announcement of Krishi Udaan scheme in the Budget 2020, in which farmers can export their produce internationally. Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary (AD), Ministry of Civil Aviation gave a very short presence at the conference but very powerful. Rather than just giving a speech, he called for an engaging sessions and through queries from the audience, he talked about skill development, drones development, Amethi Aviation University. He said, tracking, mapping, traffic management for drones – all are in process. He also advised to have Green zones in tier 2 cities for the use of drones in these areas. 

The next session “Digitalisation – Opportunities & Challenges”, began with the presentation of Kunal Bhatt, Vice President – Cargo Corporate Services, Qatar Airways, where he took everyone back to the digital evolution, need for digitalization, enablers of business digitalization. He said, digitalization calls for transparency and ‘now’ factor. Denny Fikri, President Director, PT Angkasa Pura Kargo, Indonesia, shared his experience and workings in Indonesia as his company is responsible for serving cargo terminals at 19 airports. And the target of the Indonesian government is to have 100 airports operational in the next 15 years. He threw light on the necessity of digitalization at the airports, which leads to improvement in efficiency, reduced operating cost and creation of new revenue system. Following it was the panel discussion on ‘digitization to digitalization – the path’, which was indeed quite interactive from the point of view of freight forwarders, airports, customer perspective, witnessed exchanged of talks on data security, drones,  digitalization aspects, etc. Overall, it was a great endeavour towards the future call of the industry, throwing light on the digital growth of the air cargo sector, where the entire industry participated actively and shared their views. It’s good to see digital in mind, rather than out of mind!