A new audit programme promises to raise the bar for global cargo handling operations

Cargo handling audits have long been a key part of the sector, allowing airlines to ensure their carg0—a substantial bottom line contributor—is handled correctly. But, like much else in cargo, the process has grown organically and become unnecessarily complex, costly, and lengthy and as a result. So much so that it is estimated 360,000 days per year are wasted annually on redundant cargo handling audits.

“That’s a lot of time and money,” says Glyn Hughes, IATA Global Head of Cargo. “And in the current global economic climate, it is money that air cargo carriers can ill afford to lose.”

To alleviate at least some of this burden, IATA has devised the Smart Facility Operational Capacity (SFOC) program. The aim is a 50% reduction in redundant audits and an improvement in cargo handling safety and quality levels.

“SFOC will remove the need to validate generic cargo operation procedures and reduce audit complexity and duplication for cargo handling facilities.,” says Hughes.

Certified facilities

The new IATA initiative has two components;  a standardized global audit program and a commitment to reduce the number of separate audits. The first component will result in the Smart Facility Operational Capacity Audit Certification (SFOC Audit Certification) to provide airlines with the assurance that SFOC Certified facilities are adhering to IATA's Resolutions and Recommended Practices in cargo handling and with IATA’s Cargo Handling Manual (ICHM).

Airlines participating in the SFOC program will undertake a gap analysis to determine which audit standards will not need to be assessed for SFOC certified facilities. The revised audit scope is then defined through the second component, the audit reduction commitment (ARC).

In other words, airlines will provide clear visibility on the potential audit reduction for SFOC certified facilities, ensuring there is a solid mechanism to eliminate redundant audits.

“Auditing is critical to ensure the global standards that underpin the safe and efficient operations in the aviation industry,” says Hughes. “IATA’s strong capabilities in auditing have been proven in the successful IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and CEIV programs. The SFOC program will bring this expertise to general cargo handling operations.”

Industry collaboration

As is typical of such initiatives, the buy-in of relevant stakeholders has been essential from the start to guarantee that all benefit.

The SFOC program has been launched in conjunction with Singapore Airlines and SATS Ltd, the local handler in Singapore. SATS now operates the first cargo handling facility to receive the new SFOC Audit Certification and Singapore Airlines is the first airline to join the SFOC program by signing the ARC.

Singapore Airlines worked closely with IATA to refine the audit and certification process and Chin Yau Seng, Senior Vice President Cargo, Singapore Airlines, says this has enabled an even greater emphasis on safety and security.

“The combination of both the SFOC audits and our own audits serves to provide a comprehensive picture of our service partners’ capabilities and operational quality while improving audit efficiency for us and our service partners,” he says. Yacoob Piperdi, CEO, SATS Gateway Services, says: “The certification affirms SATS’ consistent standards and the quality of our service. We hope other airlines will follow this example to realise the SFOC programme’s full audit efficiencies for the entire industry.

The main objective for 2020 will be to facilitate the expansion of airline endorsements of the SFOC program. “We anticipate many airlines conducting their individual gap analyses and signing the ARC this year,” IATA’s Hughes concludes. “This is a crucial step for the program’s adoption across cargo handling operators and achieving our stated audit reduction goal for the entire industry.”

Cargo Facility of the Future

Alongside the SFOC program, IATA has an established initiative to develop the cargo facilities of the future. Technology upgrades mean the concept will be in a constant state of evolution but a safe, secure, sustainable and automated warehouse would make for an easier audit process. It envisages automated high-rack warehouses, green vehicles navigating throughout the facility, and employees using artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) to be more efficient. Providing a fit for purpose—in size and location—facility for users is key.

IATA’s white paper on the subject lists six technologies set to revolutionize air cargo facilities:     

  • Green, sustainable, buildings     
  • Big Data leading to predictive AI systems     
  • Drones and autonomous vehicles     
  • Internet of Things for connected cargo and devices     
  • Robotics and automated systems     
  • Augmented reality and wearables

Already, a study on augmented reality has been completed. This has shown that special wearable glasses helps with processing speed, error reduction and user satisfaction—perhaps not surprising given that there are estimated to be over 3,000 rules and checks required before a carrier can accept a shipment.