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South American cargo airline joins Freightos e-booking platform

WebCargo allows logistics firms to make faster cargo reservations, compare transport prices

LATAM Airlines' cargo division is the newest carrier, and first in Latin America, to participate in the Freightos online cargo platform. (Photo: LATAM)

Freightos, a startup digital marketplace for booking international freight that signed a merger agreement less than three weeks ago to be publicly listed on the NASDAQ exchange, announced Thursday it has penetrated South America for the first time with the addition of LATAM Cargo.

The largest carrier in the region will now offer real-time pricing and instant booking to forwarders through Freightos’ WebCargo portal. 

The cargo division of Chile-based LATAM Airlines Group has a fleet of 13 Boeing 767 freighters supplemented by the belly space of more than 200 active passenger aircraft. In 2021, it hauled 801,500 tons of cargo. Cargo revenue increased 27.4% and represented 30.2% of the group’s total. 

WebCargo is the Freightos marketplace that connects air and ocean carriers with logistics companies arranging freight transportation for businesses. Freightos is the multiparty shopping site where shippers book shipments with those freight forwarders.

The digitalization of the air cargo industry has taken off since the pandemic after initial hesitation because forwarders realized they needed to be much more nimble to secure severely limited capacity. More than 50% of air cargo moved in the lower deck of passenger aircraft prior to the COVID crisis, but much of that disappeared when airlines stopped flying. Forwarders that waited to manually compare prices and confirm bookings, or check with their customers, frequently found the cargo space they planned to reserve was snatched up by competitors. 

Nearly 40% of total industry air cargo capacity is now available online, a 174% increase compared to the second quarter of 2020, according to Freightos. 

WebCargo enables airlines to market their capacity and gives forwarders the ability to quickly compare live rates and capacity and electronically book shipments. Airlines need to make technology investments to directly connect with third-party platforms such as Freightos, and Unisys Corp.’s Cargo Portal.

The advantage of automatically connecting the forwarders’ transportation management system with airline reservation systems is more predictable, transparent pricing and capacity information that can be confirmed instantly, as passengers are used to when booking tickets. Until recently, much of the online pricing was still static, requiring carriers to manually confirm the price and booking in the system. In many cases, phone calls and emails are also required to finalize a booking.

Freightos is rapidly gaining altitude after a slow takeoff. In 2018, Lufthansa became the first airline to integrate its booking engine with WebCargo. Two more European carriers followed in 2019. The e-Booking platform began to gain more airline participants in 2020 and last year reached critical mass. It is heavily weighted toward European airlines, but last year expanded to the Middle East with the addition of Qatar Airways, the largest cargo airline by volume in the world, Etihad and Turkish Airlines, and North America with Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL). 

This year American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) and Air Canada have also adopted WebCargo, giving it a strong foothold in North America. Since late April, users have been able to book on American out of eight western European countries comprising 35 routes to the U.S. (On July 12, American granted full access to its network for flights in and out of the U.S. when booking and WebCargo.)

With LATAM Cargo, more than 36% of global air cargo capacity marketed by airlines is available for booking on WebCargo. More than 3,500 forwarders use the platform and the annual growth rate in bookings over the past three years is more than 200%, according to Freightos.

LATAM’s strategy

The airline made digitizing the booking process a priority to improve efficiency and the customer experience, said Jorge Galvez, senior vice president of marketing and development for LATAM Cargo, in an interview.

Many airlines like LATAM have a strategy of segmenting how they market cargo capacity to customers. Large forwarders with the resources to build programming interfaces can directly connect their systems to airline booking engines and execute transactions. WebCargo, which is geared to the spot market, is how they reach small and midsize forwarders or regions where they have a smaller footprint. Although large logistics companies have access to contract rates, more shipments are being booked in the spot market because of constantly changing supply chain conditions, including geopolitics, fuel prices and COVID.

“We’re a big believer in these platforms. We’re also a big believer in direct connecting with our core airlines. And we do that as well,” said Neel Jones Shah, the executive vice president of airfreight strategy and carrier development for Flexport, in a webinar presented by the San Francisco-based forwarder. “We’re a tech company. We like automated solutions and we’re going to pursue those as aggressively as we can.”

The Freightos service “will open a lot of doors for us in terms of new markets, new customers and also giving a much better customer experience for existing customers,” Galvez said. “We’re going to shift them from our own contact center, where they basically use email to book shipments, into a more digital service where they can be more autonomous in terms of making their own bookings, changing bookings and making better decisions for themselves” in a more efficient and agile manner.

Freightos said real-time bookings with LATAM Cargo are already available for WebCargo customers on 27 lanes, with the possibility of connecting flights in South America. LATAM serves more than 135 destinations in more than 20 countries.

In January, Freightos acquired 7L Freight, a truck rate management company to give WebCargo customers in North America the ability to book airport trucking for their air shipments. WebCargo recently added a payments option allowing a wider array of forwarders to book air cargo on participating airlines.

When Freightos announced plans to join the NASDAQ stock exchange on May 31 through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, it disclosed that LATAM is a shareholder.

Galvez explained that LATAM contribution to Freightos is nonfinancial. As a strategic partner, LATAM Cargo has early access to new Freightos functionalities and will function as a test bed. In exchange, it will eventually receive some shares in the e-Booking company.

“We’re going to be sitting at the table where the decisions are going to be made in terms of what the road map looks like for Freightos and basically becoming launch partners with Freightos for these functionalities. They also gave us an incentive where we’re going to be receiving some stocks from Freightos, that’s basically part of the deal,” Galvez said.

Freightos founder and CEO Zvi Schreiber told FreightWaves that new products get rolled out faster to airline partners “but it’s never exclusive. If we get ideas from Qatar or LATAM, maybe we give them a product which is new and then they give us feedback. But then we make the improvements for everyone. No airline is getting any data or technology exclusively.”

LATAM plans to send four more 767 passenger jets to Boeing for conversion into freighters, with options for four additional conversions. Galvez disclosed that LATAM will receive a factory-built 767 cargo jet from Boeing in September. If all options are exercised, LATAM Cargo could have a fleet of 22 medium widebody freighters by the end of 2023.

(Updated July 12, 2022 at 11:51 a.m. with details of American Airlines.)

More FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]