Your Ultimate Guide to Air Cargo Tracking & Management
What is Air Cargo Tracking?
Air cargo is a premium mode of shipping.
It is often the quickest way to transport anything from point A to point B, and the safest way too. Although it is the quickest and safest way to use for your shipments, especially for the cold chain ones, no one can really guarantee you that nothing will happen to your cargo. And therefore, you need to keep a constant check on your air cargo right from the first step when it leaves your facility, until the last step when it reaches its destination.
Air cargo tracking basically involves tracking and tracing air cargo with the help of either the airline, the freight forwarder, the transport operator, or GPS devices. Once you plan and execute a system for properly keeping track of your air cargo, you can be sure that you’re on top of your supply chain. It is generally preferred that air cargo is tracked right from the first mile till the last mile and through all the stages in between — while sitting at the airports, waiting for customs clearances, and all the paperwork.
Although being on top of your air cargo sounds doable, it isn’t all that easy to pull it off, given how entangled the whole process of managing air shipments is. There are a lot of risks that air cargo faces between the first mile and the last mile, because:
- There’s a distinct lack of accurate timely awareness, which stems from a lack of data collection mechanisms and standard operating procedures.
- There have been efforts in the past to address the paucity of data, and although the industry has adopted more advanced mechanisms, the tracking systems prevalent today need to be improved upon.
- A big part of the air cargo industry is still on the lookout for a system that helps them get better visibility data; this is because of — dependencies, systems working in silos, procedural delays, etc.
The status quo and glacial pace of reform is soon going to create a firestorm, and there’s definitely a need for change in the way an important function like air cargo monitoring is being handled.
What are the Risks That Air Cargo Faces?
If your cargo is travelling by air, it goes through more than just takeoff and landing. The process begins way before the plane takes flight — the moment when your cargo leaves the facility or manufacturing system — a process that’s actually completed well after the flight lands, when the last mile is complete. Between the first mile and the last mile, your air cargo goes through a lot of ups and downs and change of hands, which makes it necessary to keep a check on:
- Whether your consignment departed on time and in good condition — or were there any disruptions from the point of dispatch or on the way.
- Whether or not delays affect the shipment significantly — delays that could occur on the way to the airport since you usually have to rely on a transporter, especially for condition-sensitive cargo that could get damaged in transit.
- Whether the cargo has boarded the flight on time — if your cargo is left behind at the airport and the flight takes off, the rest of the shipment planning goes down the drain.
- Whether the cargo was loaded on the right aircraft — you could be tracking the wrong flight while your shipment travels on some other flight, and you’d have no clue until the flights land.
- Whether the goods are in perfect condition — in case the goods are condition-sensitive, it is a huge problem if there’s a temperature excursion — everything goes for a toss in case the goods need attention up in the air.
- Whether your consignment reached in full — in case the last-mile planning isn’t foolproof, packages could be missing even during the final unloading.
- Whether your consignment reached its destination safely — sometimes a part of your consignment might get left behind or the whole consignment might get damaged; what if it doesn’t make it to the end in one-piece?
- Whether it went through customs without a glitch — you never know at what stage of customs inspection your shipment is, and when it will get released.
- Whether your cargo was safe all the way to the last mile — you would never know what is happening to your cargo mile-by-mile. If an anomaly takes place in transit or during a random stoppage, there’s no way to know what happened.
Even a little slip in one of these concerns can put your air cargo at several risks, which mainly include:
- Delay at first mile
- Lack of visibility after take-off
- Trucker detention at the airport
- Risk with condition-sensitive goods
- Tamper during inspection
- Mishandling during loading/unloading
- Damaged packages
- Package segregation
- Documentation and paperwork-related issues
- Verifications and validations (legal)
- Delay in customs
- Accurate dispatch
- Accurate ETA for drop-off
- Scheduling and routing efficiency
- Load deconsolidation and consolidation management
- Accurate pickup
- Accurate ETA for delivery
- Missing the DIFOT/OTIF mark
- Lack of last mile visibility
Why Do You Need an Air Cargo Tracking System?
In order to manage the many risks involved in dealing with air shipments, it is necessary to always stay on top of your air cargo — which can only be done if you are able to constantly keep a track of where your cargo is and manage the delays and other associated risks. There are a lot of options that current technology affords us to track and trace air cargo, but in order for that to work out perfectly, we need to look for a flawless solution. Most track air cargo with the help of either an airline or a freight forwarder. But that gives only the basic details about your shipment before the flight takes off, and after it reaches its destination, and not the much-needed details on what actually happened with the cargo during the course of its journey.
Is Tracking a Flight Enough to Track Air Shipments? Although tracking and tracing a flight gives you a good idea of the flight’s status — whether it has reached, if it got delayed on the way, or current ETA — some important things are still missing. It cannot give you first mile and last mile information. For instance, if you ship from Zurich to Knoxville, Tennessee via a flight that goes from Geneva to Atlanta, the time spent in flight is 9 hours. The time spent in the first mile is about a day and another day or two from Atlanta to Knoxville. The time spent collectively in the first & last mile are more than the actual in-flight time – plus these are the places where the unpredictable can happen. There isn’t usually much that can happen to your goods in flight.
Also, there is absolutely no way you could know about the current condition of your cargo and the overall shipment just by tracking a flight. The point is, you are just tracking the flight, not your cargo. What if you’re tracking one flight, while your consignment is travelling on a completely different flight? Also, even if you’re tracking the correct flight, what would it tell you about the cargo other than the basic whereabouts? And that’s what brought into the picture — Cargo iQ.
What is Cargo iQ and How is It Different from Other Track and Trace Systems?
First Came Cargo iQ
Cargo iQ is an EDI-based platform developed and maintained by IATA. It basically digitizes communication between everyone involved in an air cargo management operation during its journey — airlines, airports, customers, freight forwarders, and shippers — to create a harmony and maintain quality standards.
Cargo iQ makes sure that everyone in the loop is always updated as each stakeholder uploads or feeds information into the platform. In short, Cargo iQ can easily be called the air cargo world’s very own ‘crowdsourced’ ERP. Here is everything Cargo iQ does that one cannot achieve just by tracking an airplane:
- It is a 'live' milestone sharing tool, and thus works well in keeping all the stakeholders connected as well as on the same page.
- It ascertains that everyone in the loop can view the data to keep a constant check on quality.
- It facilitates proactive notifications so that it is possible to take corrective actions well within time without any delays.
- It helps keep quality in check through constant reporting as per standardized quality standards as well as IATA rules and regulations.
- It helps keep data transparency intact by maintaining data regarding operational performance of its members. It also maintains the required data privacy during the process.
- It takes care of critical processes by making the members follow set quality standards and milestones from first mile till last mile.
- It makes sure that there’s no gap between the planned and the actual performance, and helps identify the gaps, if any.
What Cargo iQ Cannot Do?
Although Cargo iQ does a lot more than just tracing and tracking the airplane that your cargo is travelling on, it is still just like any other ERP — it cannot automate data capture, and just acts as a repository of digital data. This tells us that while being the useful system that it is, Cargo iQ still lacks in some areas, especially where:
- It cannot provide real-time updates on your shipment, so you cannot make informed decisions.
- It provides only post-event data, which isn’t actionable and doesn’t help much.
- Cargo iQ can’t really enable end-to-end tracking, and no information on the first and last mile is available.
- It doesn’t help to track condition data of your shipment like temperature and movement.
- It doesn’t monitor at the package-level.
- Cargo iQ doesn’t have the data you need to make informed decisions for multimodal route optimization.
- It cannot help with prescriptive analytics.
- It cannot resolve inventory management issues since it lacks information about current stock at dispatch or delivery.
So, Is Cargo iQ Really a Monitoring Tool on its Own?
Cargo iQ came into the air cargo tracking scene like a boon — not only air cargo tracking and tracing but also a complete and constant check on all involved parties and whether they’re meeting the established benchmarks. To be fair, Cargo iQ does considerably more and much better than just tracking the flight, which is precisely what you used to do before it stepped in. But there are some things that it still cannot do, and the biggest reason for it is that Cargo iQ still relies on manual data capturing.
Is There a Solution to Plug the Gaps of Cargo iQ’s Tracking?
There are more than one methods to get a more complete picture of what’s happening with your air cargo in addition to Cargo iQ insights, some of which include:
Airline-based Tracking Using this solution, you can completely automate the air cargo tracking process. All you need to do is connect and integrate your internal ERP with the airline tracking systems. In case your organization isn’t capable of doing this on its own, you can always find a technology partner to help you with the integration process.
Even though this process is pretty useful and much better than the age-old tracking process, the data you get is still limited to the location of the flight and shipping documents. You still don’t get end to end visibility, condition data, or customs status about your air cargo. At times, you won’t even be 100% certain if your shipment is on the flight you’re tracking.
Relying on the Freight Forwarder’s Tracking System To get a little more data than from the Airline’s tracking system on your air cargo, another way is to rely on the data from your freight forwarder, which is essentially a combination of data from airline portals and status updates from a 3PL. This can prove as a good way to fetch data for multimodal shipments that use both trucks and air to travel.
But even this solution can only provide you data on location of the flight, a little bit of first and last mile visibility (not end-to-end yet), and some ease while handling documentation. It also provides warehouse data and information on customs status using inputs from integrated EDI systems and the forwarder’s personnel in the field. This system isn’t perfect because it lacks information about the condition of the shipment, and package segregation, which is vital.
GPS Tracker-based Tracking System One of the more reliable and simpler ways to track is to send wireless tracking devices with your shipment, trackers that will collect and send data through any available communication network and the Cloud. Using this system, you can get end-to-end tracking information that is much more reliable than the other ways to track air cargo. But even this solution cannot provide you with live condition data and 100% confirmation about the freight on board; you never know anything about the on-board status or in-flight information.
Additionally, not all GPS trackers are approved for use by all airlines, and it is also a big task to get the GPS tracking devices back from the destination after the consignment has reached there. It becomes a lengthy as well as expensive thing to bring the devices back, which messes up the overall budget even though the devices themselves might be cheap.
It stands to reason, given their limitations, that relying on any third-party solution to track your air cargo isn’t an ideal option. If you think it may be worth trying to build your own system and get end-to-end tracking and condition data on your air cargo, just hold that thought for a minute.
The Roambee Air Cargo Monitoring Solution — A Comprehensive Answer Even though the air cargo tracking solutions mentioned above can be useful to keep you almost on top of your supply chain, none of these are free of loopholes, which could mean that your air cargo is still not at its safest. You need a solution that not only has everything that your airline, freight forwarder, and GPS shipment tracking system gives you, but also whatever they are missing. A solution that doesn’t just tell you where your shipment is and when it might reach, but also everything else about it including its condition, how it was handled during its journey, and a full report from first till last mile.
What you precisely need is an on-demand air cargo monitoring solution, which would give you everything you need, using sensor data that’s real, real-time, and relevant to your requirement. Roambee’s Air Cargo Monitoring solution is one that does what the name says — not just tracking, but complete live monitoring of your air cargo. It enables you to be proactive with your supply chain problems, so you remove obstacles even before they actually affect your supply chain.
Such a system monitors your air cargo using sensor data so that you can be with your cargo (virtually) from the time it leaves the facility until it reaches the destination. It also makes sure that along with the real-time sensor data and actionability, you also have no regulatory issues to deploy the devices.
This kind of a monitoring system is useful not just for your air cargo tracking, but also for complete monitoring of your multimodal operations, where more than just air journey — rail, road, ocean — might also be involved. It is usually complicated to track the cargo everywhere it goes in a multimodal setting, where there are plenty of players and modes of transportation in between, and anything could go wrong — mishandling of the packages, temperature excursions, unknown stoppages, documentation issues, etc.
To comprehensively cover all these troubles in your air cargo/multimodal shipment, Roambee’s air cargo monitoring solution:
Provides Real-time End-To-End Tracking Data — so that you know everything about your shipment from first mile to last mile. This includes every step:
- While the goods are in the facility
- When they leave the facility and are on road in the truck
- When they reach the airport
- While they’re waiting to board the flight
- When they are in the flight
- When they’re getting inspected at the customs facility
- While they’re opened and repacked
- On their way from the airport to the destination
- At the final stage when they reach their destination and are unloaded.
- Provides Package-level Data — instead of just shipment level data. This helps you get package segregation data as well.
- Provides Condition Data — which is very important if your consignment is condition-sensitive cargo that needs special handling. It will inform you about everything from shocks, temperature excursion, humidity and the likes.
- Sends Preemptive Alerts — about the route, condition and location, so the responsible person can take timely action.
- Sends ETA Alerts — enabling informed route-optimization decisions through proper analysis of data.
- Provides AI-driven Prescriptive Analytics — which enables predictive action rather than corrective action.
- Provides Data on Customs Status — throughout the whole process.
- Provides Device Reverse Logistics — your solution provider takes care of the device reverse logistics.
- Helps in Airline Approvals — so that there’s no hindrance in using the tracking devices for smooth monitoring of your shipments.
How Can You Introduce an IoT-Based Air Cargo Monitoring System to Your Supply Chain?
Choose a solution that monitors your air cargo throughout its journey and keeps you on top of it all the time, as well as is easy to implement. While it might seem like a more convenient option to use EDI systems like Cargo iQ or GPS devices to track your air cargo, you need to contend with the gaps that exist in these systems. You definitely don't want it to be a very expensive setup. You need to look for a solution wherein you can let experts handle the air cargo monitoring with the perfect combination of IoT + AI + RPA without a huge capital expenditure on the system, all this with minimal manual intervention — a system that is easy to implement, not as expensive as other solutions, and doesn’t need you to modify existing processes or even rely on a forwarder or airline, to manage it since someone else is doing it for you.