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Can AI end the cargo industry’s capacity woes?


As the cargo industry struggles with capacity issues that are challenging an already constrained global supply chain, the sector is increasingly looking to technology for answers. And Etihad Cargo, the cargo and logistics arm of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Aviation Group, believes Artificial Intelligence (AI) could provide the solution by upscaling cargo dimension accuracy.

The national carrier of the United Arab Emirates has turned to Singapore’s SPEEDCARGO in its search for answers to the capacity dilemma. It is now carrying out a proof-of-concept trial of SPEEDCARGO’s AI-powered airfreight loading technology in a bid to boost its available capacity by more than 3,000 tonnes a year.

Etihad Cargo is trialing SPEEDCARGO’s breakthrough CARGO EYE dimensioning system and AI-powered CARGO MIND software solution, which is claimed to deliver optimal cargo space planning and utilisation in seconds in full adherence to regulations and business constraints. In fact, Etihad is the first airline to propose using SPEEDCARGO’s new CARGO MIND for early-stage flight planning, creation of final booking lists and first-level load plans.

The solutions are being tested across the entire end-to-end process on the carrier’s SIN-AUH lane and also from its AUH home base to other destinations. “In AUH we are testing whether the solution can accurately measure the dimensions of the different types and sizes of cargo as well as packaging,” explained Martin Drew, SVP Sales and Cargo at Etihad Aviation Group. “We are seriously investigating whether these solutions can ensure a complete end-to-end process which will totally transform airfreight operations.”

Total transformation may seem a big ask but the SPEEDCARGO solutions come with some serious disruption clout. For instance, its CARGO EYE has been developed with Microsoft’s cutting-edge Time-of-Flight sensing technology which captures imagery of incoming cargo and calculates accurate dimensions based on cargo type, size, and packaging in real time, while seamlessly integrating the data into existing warehouse management systems. The solution also feeds data into CARGO MIND to accurately build load plans, monitor and promote data compliance, and identify damaged cargo to reduce potential claims.

Dr. Suraj Nair, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, SPEEDCARGO explained: “Working with its own ground handling agents where SPEEDCARGO GHA solutions are deployed, Etihad Cargo will maximise cargo capacity on each flight by using CARGO EYE to automate cargo dimensioning and CARGO MIND to create load plans.”

If all goes well and Etihad can maximise cargo across flights and ULD container configurations according to internal loading rules, it could reach its capacity growth targets and significant increase revenue yield.

The technology though has more to offer than capacity optimisation. It can significantly enhance cost control through manpower savings which could reach 3,720 hours a month, minimise leakage and maximise offload recovery by up to a third by improving customer satisfaction through the automation of accurate data receipts. “Clients will also benefit from highly transparent and accountable billing as well as much faster response times for freighter charter quotations,” said Drew.

The trial results should be in by the year-end and Etihad hopes that if successful, it can begin a full technology rollout in early 2022.

“We have high hopes,” said Drew. “We will be able to really enhance our customer offering with fewer offloads due to overcapacity because of incorrect dimensions, make more capacity available and utilise available capacity more efficiently.”

The SPEEDCARGO trials are part of a digital transformation journey Etihad has launched to heighten competitiveness and boost Abu Dhabi’s status as an international cargo hub. And according to Drew, it’s a journey of necessity.

“Industry estimates suggest world air cargo traffic will more than double over the next 20 years, expanding to US $578 billion revenue tonne-kilometre (RTK) by 2039; the industry has to be digitally ready to take advantage and secure increased market share,” he said.