Commentary | IT Matters

Get Airborne with Asset Tracking

Tags: Air Cargo, Logistics I.T.

Nikki Cuban is Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, OnAsset Intelligence, 972-659-1619 x 147

In today’s complex global supply chain, transportation delays, security issues, and spoiled or lost cargo too often disrupt the distribution process. In air transportation, cargo often travels via multiple airports, airlines, ground handlers, and across geographies, creating ample opportunity for problems to occur.

While other transport modes have had the benefits of GPS technology to improve risk mitigation strategies and reduce supply chain disruption, air transportation only recently began experiencing the benefits. Major commercial airline operators have begun to evaluate and approve the use of GPS tracking devices for cargo shipments, as long as the technology includes a feature for automatic "airplane mode."

Some of the most precious cargo travels via air, such as tissue samples, pharmaceuticals, organs for transplant, and replacement machine parts. Before real-time tracking and global cellular networks, critical incidents at the airport often went unnoticed until after the scheduled flight departure. Not having time to respond to critical shipment care issues can be expensive for all supply chain partners.

With the safe use of GPS devices approved on aircraft, shippers, forwarders, and logistics providers can track cargo location and environmental condition from airport to airport, across the globe. The knowledge transfer and recovery time for cargo in need is now a rapid process. The time between problem awareness and resolution is often as little as 30 minutes.

Flight Test

In July 2012, Brussels Airport announced the beginning of a 15-month cellular, GPS tracking project to include shippers, airlines, freight forwarders, and airport personnel. The goal is not to focus on data collection to identify accountability when procedures break down, but rather to improve quality and service levels.

Airports and airlines are looking to cellular tracking technology to reduce risk and cost while improving quality of service. Other technologies, such as RFID, have been tested and deployed in certain situations, but have not proven to be a global solution that can easily be deployed across multiple terminals and operators at airports worldwide. RFID technologies require a reader infrastructure, have limited geographic visibility, require a high capital outlay, and are time consuming to deploy. Using cellular technology, provided by global carriers such as AT&T, avoids unnecessary investment in infrastructure, is proven, and ready for use.

Cleared for Takeoff

When preparing to ship cargo that contains a GPS and sensor-based device, remember to consult the airline operator to ensure the device has been approved for use. This information is usually accessible via the airlines Web site or cargo personnel.

Current FAA regulations state that deeming a portable electronic device (PED) as safe for use on aircraft is the operator’s responsibility. In January 2013, the Federal Aviation Committee formed an advisory rule-making committee (ARC) to explore expanding the use of PEDs in flight.

The ARC consists of FAA members, aircraft manufacturers, airline operators, pilot and flight attendant representatives, electronic device manufacturers, the FCC, and the Consumer Electronics Association.

The use of wireless devices, including tracking devices, is gaining momentum in air transportation. The ability to track and manage high-value cargo more efficiently with the assistance of real-time cellular technology and sensor-based logistics is just the beginning.