IATA has reiterated calls for air cargo carriers to adopt modern digital processes such as electronic waybills – changes that will align the air cargo technology with the high-tech industries that dominate air shipment demand.
"Complicated and convoluted paper-based processes that are basically unchanged from the 16th century are still being used in air cargo today," says IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac on 14 March. "A single cargo shipment can require up to 30 pieces of paper."
De Juniac made his comments at the World Cargo Symposium in Abu Dhabi, according to IATA.
He called on the industry to expand use of paperless "e-freight" processes and other systems that can monitor shipments and send updates and alerts.
Currently, about half of air freight shipments are processed using paperless waybills, and the industry has aimed to increase penetration to 62% by the end of 2017, he says.
E-commerce, pharmaceutical and other customers have become "frustrated with the complicated and convoluted paper-based processes", he says.
De Juniac's comments come as the air freight industry benefits from notable improvement in the air freight market.
In January, global air freight demand, measured in freight tonne kilometres, increased 6.9% year-over-year, well ahead of the average five-year industry growth rate of 3.0%, according to IATA's most recent air cargo report.
The air cargo industry has faced increasing pressure to modernise processes as the industry has relied more heavily on cargo from the booming, high-tech e-commerce industry, executives have said.
Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings chief commercial officer Michael Steen said in mid-2016 that e-commerce is transforming the supply chain.
Under the old model, products ship from manufacturers to distributors, to retailers and to customers in a process that can take 30 days.
The e-commerce model, however, requires that shipments move through the entire supply chain in about 10 days, Steen said.