AIS (Advance Information System) – the new module from CCS-UK User Group – is transforming the process of delivering air cargo to Heathrow Airport, and steadily gaining traction within the industry.
Well-documented peak-time delays at Heathrow’s outdated cargo terminal have been a fact of life going back years. Lack of on-airport truck parking, narrow approach roads and tight manoeuvring space for today’s larger articulated vehicles frequently lead to long truck queues backing up onto the airport’s perimeter road, and trucks and drivers tied up unnecessarily for hours.
Two years ago, CCS-UK User Group – the body which represents all users of the UK’s air cargo community computer system, CCS-UK – announced that it was starting work on a new module to enable freight agents, and transport companies working on their behalf, to pre-alert handling agents of loads being delivered and picked up, down to House AWB level, as well as submit Electronic Consignment Security Declarations (e-CSD).
This advance information – including vehicle, driver, cargo being delivered, handling agent and ETA – would be submitted either through a web portal or messages sent direct from the forwarder’s own system. The information would then be accessible to all relevant parties in the supply chain.
By receiving this information electronically in advance, the handlers would be able to populate their systems with the shipment information, reducing paperwork and delays on arrival of the truck, and eradicating re-keying errors.
Most importantly, by obtaining advance warning of cargo en route, handlers would be able to anticipate workloads, schedule resources, and allocate handling slots for the trucks. This would help to reduce the number of vehicles on the cargo terminal, and cut queue times.
AIS has now been live for around a year and – although still subject to ongoing development – is already in use at a growing number of hauliers, handlers and forwarders. One of the early adopters was Mixed Freight Services, which provides off-airport security screening for air cargo exports, and then feeds the screened cargo to Heathrow’s cargo sheds. As one of the largest operators at Heathrow, it had been suffering unacceptable delays for some years. Director, Steve O’Keeffe recounts: “On one occasion, one of our trailers was turned away five times over one weekend due to the handlers’ inability to cope with the volume of trucks already queued, and their warehouse facilities being at capacity.”
Continues O’Keeffe: “We can’t change the Heathrow infrastructure, so we realised we would have to change the way we worked. So we focused on capacity management: collating cargo off-airport, and then delivering just in time, ideally between 12 and 24 hours ahead of the flight.
“AIS is enabling us to work more efficiently with the ground handlers; we screen the cargo, submit the e-CSD and manifest to the handler, and then deliver. It has dramatically simplified and streamlined our process, giving the handler visibility of pending export cargo which is security screened and ready for delivery.”
Lawrence Cockburn, Business Systems Manager at dnata, was involved in the original concept and design of AIS, and is reporting significant reductions in dwell time for 75% of the vehicles dnata processes: “dnata has led innovation with its gatehouse concept, streamlining the delivery and collection process. AIS is now building on this, giving us the ability to further enhance our gatehouse and counter processes. We no longer have to capture data: we just verify it.”
dnata – which is Heathrow’s largest independent handler, with 7 facilities located away from the most congested on-airport areas – is now incentivising greater take-up of AIS, continues Cockburn: “Agents and truckers who use AIS can take advantage of our “Blue Lane”, giving them priority over all other vehicles, regardless of the order in which they arrived.
“Carriers are seeing the benefit of AIS, which goes a long way to dealing with the challenges at Heathrow; they are very supportive.”
And Carl Aspital, Director of forwarder Air & Cargo Services, one of the AIS pilot testers, also reports positive experiences: “We were dnata’s first Blue Lane-approved operator. We have noticed a significant difference, particularly with night-time deliveries. As we use AIS, dnata has nothing to input, so the payback is faster handling: our driver is given a door immediately on arrival.”
“Forwarders can often suffer up to 5 hour waits at every shed. So, if everything else is equal, we would always now favour a carrier whose handler uses AIS. With a 20 minute turnaround, we can save £200 in driver costs alone.”
He concludes: “We need all of the shed operators to adopt AIS, so we can programme vehicles to visit multiple sheds.”
The AIS module is free of charge for all CCS-UK subscribers, which number around 900 forwarders, cargo terminal operators and airlines. Yet AIS has still to gain full take-up within the UK air cargo industry, says CCS-UK User Group Chairman, Steve Parker
“All AIS requires is a modest change to ways of working. It’s hard to understand why many are still holding back, as AIS is free of charge, and its widespread adoption will help everyone in the community.”
He adds: “With the uncertainties surrounding BREXIT around the corner, leading to the possibility of more complex procedures and even dramatic increases in traffic, now is the time to take all possible steps to streamline the UK’s air cargo industry, which will become an even more vital trading tool. So, we hope the success of AIS to date will inspire much greater take-up in the next few months.”
CCS-UK User Group is non-profit, and its sole function is to serve the UK air cargo community.