The air cargo industry’s selling point is speed, but many freight forwarders, ground handlers and airlines have been slow to move from manual to digital information sharing that makes the air supply chain more efficient. One reason is that setting up the necessary digital connections can be manual, slow and very complex.
The International Air Transport Association has stepped in to assist. On Tuesday, it officially rolled out a new subscription-based platform designed to facilitate the connection process between business partners so they can more easily exchange critical information and messages. But there are many highly capable vendors that have already established platforms that many forwarders and airlines are flocking to, including Webcargo and cargo.one
The number of connections between parties has multiplied as companies adopt digital processes. More than 40,000 freight forwarders exchange messages with more than 450 airlines and 23 third-party cargo community systems worldwide, according to IATA.
Connecting to new cargo business partners with multiple locations on each side can be difficult and time consuming, industry experts say. It can take many individual contact attempts and several weeks to complete the set-up of digital connectivity between cargo partners. Third parties, for example, can find it difficult to register a subscriber with an airline for EDI messaging without knowing what type of message configuration, such as CargoXML, CARIMP or an Application Processing Interface, the airline uses.
Enhanced Partner Identification and Connectivity (EPIC) is a database with tools that centralizes connection information for stakeholders, reducing the cycle time to determine communication channels with each other to minutes, IATA said. Users can store their organizational profiles and connectivity identification so they are easy to share when the time comes, as well as visualize station IDs and requests.
Subscribers will be able to start generating revenue quickly and reduce the cost of direct resources by as much as 40%, the trade group added.
“EPIC is a simple idea. It makes the information needed to do business across a digitized air cargo supply chain easily accessible. And in doing so, it will accelerate efficiency gains for air cargo. The timing of this initiative is important. COVID-19 has led to exponential growth of e-commerce and shippers are demanding quality services that only a digitized supply chain can provide,” Nick Careen, the senior vice president in charge of cargo, said in a statement.
The user base so far includes 32 airlines, 900 freight forwarders, 10 government agencies, five international organizations and 13 third-party messaging providers, IATA said.
The platform “increases transparency of the technical capabilities of partners to be registered. This helps us in the decisions we make on the resources we allocate and the approaches we have to implement, such as whether an XML partner requires XML testing,” Qatar Airways said in a testimonial posted on IATA’s website. “These clarity and visibility aspects [of connectivity], with the ease of registration process, will bring in advantages to all stakeholders involved.”
Other participants include Turkish Airlines, the logistics company DB Schenker and the Universal Postal Union.
EPIC also supports the submission of advanced cargo information required by many customs authorities before loading for security purposes.
EPIC is open for use by IATA members and nonmembers. The base annual subscription is $999, with a tiered structure rising from there based on the number of client connections.