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10 September 2021

Augmented Reality – the Future of Air Cargo Operations

Urgent innovation and action are needed in air cargo facilities. Within the context of our academic and training partnership with Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, an academic thesis was carried out by student researchers on the “Implementation of Augmented Reality (AR) in Air Cargo Operations towards Achieving Higher Sustainability”. The thesis set out to examine the potential benefit of incorporating AR technology in processes and operations. It focuses on two stages of operations critical to the efficiency and on-time management of cargo flights: Aircraft Loading and Unloading, and Capacity Optimization.

Air cargo handling is performed at thousands of airports globally by hundreds of companies and individuals. The student researchers identified potential risks that could be encountered along the supply chain due to human error. Reduced efficiency; difficulty in adapting to changes; insufficient use of capacity; and delays due to manual processes were a few of the identified risks. If managed poorly, a risk could lead to rejection by the end user or any of the recipients along the supply chain. The domino effect then being a waste of resources and unsustainable growth.

According to IATA white paper on The Cargo Facility of the Future, humans and machines could work in harmony to offer higher efficiency and superior customer service. We can expect a future with fully automated high-rack warehouses, automated and green vehicles navigating autonomously through the facility, and employees equipped with advanced tools including artificial intelligence and augmented reality. The underlying objective being that the future will be safe and secure, green, automated, connected, and smart.

To achieve this, the student researchers recommend the adoption of AR solutions in air cargo operations:

  1. to improve safety and efficiency, while reducing losses: One of the most common uses of AR technology is in environmental surveillance for safety purposes. A Cargo Ramp Awareness Positioning System, achieved through AR, could enhance the situational awareness of ground handlers in real-time, while also facilitating direct communication with the operations team to reduce delays, downtime, and associated material loss.
  2. for Realtime optimization and capacity inventory: Achieving an optimal load factor is critical for sustainable operations, particularly in striking a balance between fuel conservation and frequency of cargo flights. A Warehouse Management System (WMS) enhanced by AR could further facilitate optimal load factor throughout the aircraft loading process.
  3. AR glasses by ramp workers for risk assessment: A proper cargo ramp awareness and positioning system could reduce delays and downtime.
  4. for an enhanced temperature control of perishable cargo such as pharma and seafood: A visual confirmation could facilitate temperature modulation thereby reducing waste. 

A summary of the connection between cost reduction and processes optimization

Summary of thesis: Implementation of AR in Air Cargo Operations towards Achieving Higher Sustainability 

“AR has a huge potential not only in air cargo processes, but even for ground handling services and other stakeholders in the supply chain. We will need more data to fully unlock the potential of AR in the cargo industry. Without accurate data and confirmed successes for reference, stakeholders will hesitate in introducing new and innovative solutions to their processes”, said Teemu Kokko, President & CEO of Haaga-Helia University,

For Francisco Rizzuto, IATA Campaign Manager Cargo Specialist who supported the students throughout the research: “This is the beginning of an essential discussion on the topic of AR and Air Cargo. Perhaps through data sharing concept, we can integrate all factors of the supply chain, thus optimising it to perform more sustainably”.

Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences is one of the largest business institutions in Finland and operates out of campuses in Pasila (Helsinki), Porvoo, and Vierumäki. They offer courses and research programs in Information Technology, Hospitality, Tourism, among others. Haaga-Helia maintains an Academic collaboration status with IATA on thesis projects, enabling students to contribute to highly relevant research initiatives. Previous research projects commissioned by IATA include Benefits of Aviation for Healthcare in Finland, Public Opinion on Aviation in the Nordic Countries, and The Importance of Skilled Staff in the Future Growth of Aviation Industry.

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