In today’s electronic world, air cargo still relies heavily on paper documentation. Each international airfreight shipment can require more than 30 different paper documents, increasing the cost of airfreight and lengthening transport times. However, e-freight is an industry-wide initiative facilitated by IATA, involving carriers, freight forwarders, ground handlers, shippers and customs authorities. It aims to take the paper out of air cargo and replace it with the exchange of electronic data and messages.

The use of electronic messages will dramatically improve services for customers. Shipments will be faster, since the ability to send shipment documentation before the cargo itself will reduce the industry cycle-time by an average of 24 hours. Accuracy will also improve. Electronic document auto population, which allows one-time electronic data entry at point of origin, will reduce delays to shipments due to inaccurate data entry.

“The use of electronic messages will dramatically improve services for customers.”

In addition to these benefits, electronic documents will be less likely to be misplaced, so shipments will not be delayed, and tracking will improve as electronic data gives organisations the opportunity to track shipments en route, allowing for real-time status updates.

The environment will benefit; IATA e-freight will eliminate more than 7,800t of paper documents – the equivalent of 80 Boeing 747 freighters. All these advantages could result in industry-wide savings of $4.9bn each year.

Targets for 2011

Today, the e-freight network is in place. 44 countries are now using paper-free air cargo, representing 80% of international air cargo volumes. The next phase of the project will look at increasing e-freight volumes on existing trade lanes. As of December 2010, 2.8% of all shipments on these trade lanes were e-freight shipments. In five years, IATA and its supply chain partners hope to make that 100%, beginning with a 10% target by the end of 2011.

In order to meet that target, the industry will focus on:

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“44 countries are now using paper-free
air cargo,
80% of international air cargo volumes.”
  • securing the government support needed to change regulations in favour of e-business
  • creating a global e-freight taskforce made up of representatives from across the supply chain, which will assist local parties to address, resolve and document technical challenges relating to e-freight adoption.
  • maintaining active governance structures at a global and local level to make sure e-freight continues to be industry-led, and that e-freight solutions make sense for everyone involved. The Global Air Cargo Advisory Group, formed in November 2010 and made up of IATA, FIATA, TIACA and the Global Shippers Forum, is a key global advisory body for the initiative. To supplement that, local governance groups are formed in markets where e-freight is live to promote paper-free air cargo, global best practices and local solutions.

Now is the time for e-freight. The standards and processes are available, as well as a global route network covering significant worldwide volumes. Expanding trade in a globalised world is an undeniable engine for growth. But the future is not guaranteed. Competition from other modes of transport is real. e-freight allows us to build a platform for an even more competitive industry that is safer, greener, more efficient and more profitable.