ACS: Creating competitive advantage for air freight communities


Owing to multiple stakeholders involved in cargo operations, each shipment, on an average, requires over 30 types of documents in multiple copies, resulting in significant duplication of documentation. It also leads to increased dwell time and supply chain disruption. The implementation of ACS will eliminate paperwork at airports; enable faster processing of transactions, reducing duplication of information and streamline processes, making information available to before cargo reaching any airport. Considering the current market situation, ACS has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the air cargo industry globally, certainly for the numerous benefits it offers.

Ritika Arora Bhola

In the past few months, air cargo community system (ACS) has rightly become the ‘buzzword’ of the global air cargo industry, certainly for the endless benefits it offers. An air cargo community system, also commonly referred to as cargo community system (CCS) is an open and neutral advanced electronic platform aiding intelligent and secure information exchange between its stakeholders. It is a crucial tool in optimising operational efficiencies and enabling digitalisation of the end-to-end air cargo value chain.

Majority of the airports across the globe have ACS installed for efficient and flawless business operations. ACS reduces dwell time and eliminates supply chain disruptions. It brings in clarity and transparency in business deals.

ACS constitutes a single window system for trade. It aims to make trade across borders (both exports and imports) faster, cheaper and more predictable, while ensuring its safety, reliability and security.

Air cargo is definitely one of the worst hit sectors due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, however with the continuous improvement in innovation and technology, the air cargo industry managed to sustain and survive, and the air cargo segment (both airlines and airports) witnessed a constant boom with a significant rise in the share of revenues. Air cargo experts stated that the pandemic accelerated opportunities in innovation for this sector and forced the stakeholders to deploy advanced technologies. 

The air cargo industry, despite the pandemic, continued to transport essential commodities and medical supplies worldwide. In this ever evolving business scenario, air cargo stakeholders, globally started deploying advanced technologies like data analytics and data mining for creating bespoke products for air cargo, which are distinct from those for the passenger business.

ACS, according to the experts, became a saviour as it helped in bridging the gap with regards to standardisation of processes and technological needs of the air cargo value chain.

Role of air cargo community system

ACS handles electronic communications in airports between private transport operators (airlines, agents, freight forwarders, stevedores, freight forwarders, depots, etc.), the private hinterland (pre- and on-carriage, usually by road), importers and exporters, the airport authorities, Customs and other authorities.

Typical services of an ACS are:

  • Information exchange between the transport operators in the airport and for the hinterland connections, the airport users, customs, airport and other authorities.
  • Electronic exchange of customs declarations and customs responses, and cargo releases between private parties and customs.
  • Electronic handling of all information regarding import and export of cargo for the airport community.
  • Status information and control, tracking and tracing goods through the whole logistics chain, and,
  • Processing declarations of dangerous goods with the responsible authorities.

One of the most useful functions of ACS is to automatically derive, from information exchanges between the private airport operators, the information needed by Customs, such as the customs manifest. This information can be sent to Customs without further manual intervention.

Most ACSs have their own internal standards, but communicate with other such systems or trade communities using international air-specific standards, in particular IATA standards for EDI (Cargo-IMP) and for XML (the e-freight initiative of IATA).

Benefits of ACS

Globally, major airports in the world are either keen to implement ACS or have already implemented. In this time of need and urgency, airports globally are realising the benefits of ACS for efficient operations and faster deliveries.

  • Seamless information exchange

Air cargo stakeholders worldwide are very much familiar with software systems such as ERP or CRM and use it frequently. These involve sharing data within a forwarder/cargo handler’s business process. They do not integrate with each other, which is a major challenge for data interchange. Moreover, it leads to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in operations. To combat this, ACS is quite essential. Its ability to integrate with all ERPs and CRMs is the best possible example to mention. Major airports in the world, therefore, have implemented cargo community system to facilitate seamless data interchange.

  • Digitalisation of regulatory processes and clearance

Digitisation is in place only when there are necessary approvals received from operators. ACS is a clear game changer in the pharmaceutical supply chain as it fast tracks shipment delivery and ensures it reaches the customers on-time. Single window system for regulatory approvals has already been implemented by several nations including India. Yet, integrating them with ACS will only let the stakeholders reap the real benefits as it brings all operations into one frame.

  • No data inaccuracies or redundancies

This is perhaps one of the main benefits of ACS. The advanced system ensures data accuracy which is quite a task for forwarding agents and ground handlers. Several ground handlers often complain on revenue leakage due to inconsistent data being interchanged. Due to these inaccuracies, handlers face revenue leakages. Whereas, with a system that can connect all of them in one frame, transparency of data interchanged is high. Therefore, there is no question of inaccuracies and most importantly, there is no revenue leakage.

Airports reap benefits

One of the world’s busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) started using ACS from November last year. In collaboration with the Indian IT business leader, Kale Logistics Solutions, ATL had installed North America’s first new generation air cargo community system.

Kale team successfully completed the Proof of Concept in August 2019 and the parallel-run was initiated in November 2019. The platform went live on 14 November 2019, making Atlanta the first airport in North America to launch such a system. The platform has been eliminating duplicate data entry work, excessive documentation, addresses the truck congestion and wait-time issues and brings in the requisite transparency to reduce overall logistics costs along with enabling better supply chain planning.

Elliott Paige, Director- Air Service Development at Atlanta Airport said, “We are excited by the possibilities that lie in store for us with Atlanta Airport’s Cargo Community System, especially the reduction in truck dwell time. The scope of availability of accurate and complete information before the truck arrival has been leading to clarity, cooperation and understanding amongst the stakeholders. This initiative demonstrates the airport’s commitment to be the bell-weather in creating the new generation digital infrastructure at the airport. It is also the keystone for facilitating the digital trade corridor between Atlanta and Schiphol airport.”

“As it is being used, the system builds up data and begins to learn the behaviour of the individual users. Over time, this will enable it to give advice to improve efficiency, such as suggesting a better pick-up time or proposing an alternative route,” Paige added.

Kale is working closely with Microsoft to implement artificial intelligence and machine learning into the ACS system which will enable it to handle complex airfreight-related scenarios that could arise at the airport or elsewhere in the supply chain. The system can then intelligently predict, assign, and if required, prioritise the allocation of docks for trucks waiting at the marshalling yard.

Earlier this year, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) got the green light from its Board of Directors for cargo community system to take off with a ceiling of $447,430 that will run for two years, with options to renew for three additional one-year periods.

John Ackerman, Executive Vice President- Global Strategy & Development said, “We are working on a launch plan in collaboration with Nallian, a Belgian provider of data platforms for logistics hubs, one of which powers BRUcloud, the cloud-based CCS of Brussels Airport. One element we are looking at is truck scheduling. We don’t have the congestion problems other airports have, but trucks are idling when they come to the airport. A scheduling system can reduce the carbon footprint and truck waiting time. There is still too much paper involved.”

At DFW, truck management is also a major element like ATL.

India’s Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) is all set to introduce ACS to make Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) a ‘Smart Airport’ – digitised and seamlessly connected, to further streamline air logistics.

The implementation of ACS will eliminate paperwork at KIA, enable faster processing of transactions, reduce duplication of information and streamline processes, making information available prior to cargo reaching the airport.

BIAL has signed an e-agreement with Kale Logistics Solutions to develop the ACS platform.

“At BIAL, our vision is to make Bangalore airport a cargo hub, equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure and cutting-edge technology to deliver efficient operations. As part of our digital transformation efforts, together with our cargo community, we are excited to implement a data-sharing platform,” said Satyaki Raghunath, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, BIAL.

“This reinforces BIAL’s commitment to support the airport cargo community and bolster the growth of Bangalore airport as a cargo hub. The demonstrated efficiencies of the Kale Logistics’ ACS will ensure development of a technologically-enabled cargo community at Bangalore airport,” Raghunath added.

“In the digital age, airports must be nimble to manage issues related to security, rising costs, unprecedented lockdowns and curfews. Kale’s ACS for BIAL is a next-gen community platform, which will enable collaboration between stakeholders in the supply chain to launch new services and deliver superior customer experiences,”said Amar More, CEO, Kale Logistics Solutions.

“Our ACS is developed on the principle of enabling a cohesive ecosystem of partnership and driving efficiency in air cargo operations with the highest level of data accuracy, security and compliance,” More added.

In September, Siemens India announced it has integrated its systems with the ACS framework at Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) called as GMAX, which is also developed by Kale Logistics Solutions, to facilitate seamless time-critical functioning.

Siemens aims to have real-time visibility of their shipment movement with standard milestone tracking capabilities along with other useful information from the ACS. Under this framework, Siemens can get real-time updates on cargo movement within their air cargo import ecosystem. Moreover, verification and validation of documents make the framework more viable for the importing community.

In a bid to foster better communication and effective dissemination of information to trade partners, MIAL introduced ACS-GMAX. The platform is widely used by trade to facilitate business and have real-time shipment visibility. It is one of the most successful and innovative cargo communities in the world with over 2500 stakeholders companies using it on a daily basis. Some of the benefits realised by trade are; faster movement of trucks at the cargo complex, reduced data entry and paper handling.

Manoj Singh, Senior Vice President and Head of Cargo at MIAL said, “Technology plays a crucial role in ensuring seamless processes at MIAL Air Cargo. It was the primary motivation behind the launch of GMAX in 2013. With the latest upgrade of the portal, we are providing our stakeholders with a single digital point of access to ensure data accuracy and provide real-time cargo status and updates amongst other benefits. The ease of integration of the portal with Siemens speaks volumes about the relevance and future scope of GMAX (ACS from Kale) towards air cargo operations. It also enables us to further extend this service to import consignees, regulators and global airports initially to start with CEIV certified partner airports in a phased manner.”

Siemens India, being one of the largest importers through air cargo in India, focusses on automating and digitalising business processes. All their operations are integrated with the SLAs of their global headquarters. Several of their operations on the air cargo imports side continued to be semi-automated, with data dependency on external stakeholders.

“Logistics is all about speed, visibility and connecting different stakeholders for efficiency. This is probably another global first for the Mumbai air cargo community wherein the exporter/importer has connected directly with the ACS. We are proud to be part of this initiative and are committed to digitally transform the airport cargo community globally,” said More.

The missing link

Understanding the need for having a single window for air cargo community which will interface with Indian Customs single window and facilitate seamless movement of goods and information, Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) constituted an ACS committee drawing representation from all stakeholder groups. The committee compiled a report on the basis of consultations with these groups across several meetings. This draft was also finalised after a series of revisions, however a full-fledged implementation is yet to come to fruition. Although the group as a whole agreed on the need of a nation-wide air cargo community system, the architecture, the funding and governance model led to the he outgrowth of many differing modes of opinion.

The proposed ACS if implemented fully in India will be the complete solution through single sign on as the concept of ACS is to benefit the entire cargo community and the end-users of EXIM trade. It will also help the country comply with several international paperless initiatives capable of interacting with global cargo community systems. This, in turn, will help reduce cost of transaction, duplicate data entry and possibility of errors besides reducing inter-dependency. It will enable transparency and facilitate smoother drawback and incentives for exporters as well as eliminate the requirement for frequent changes in custodian systems on account of Customs systems changes.


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