Transportation of air cargo is advanced and complex logistics. If the cargo consists of dangerous goods, it becomes really complicated for the air carriers. The regulations are strict, the guidelines in particular, the documents accumulate quickly. Delivery bills, air waybills (AWB) and a special shipper’s declaration for dangerous goods (DGD) are among the required documents. Often data is manually read, compared and typed from these documents and the cargo. In this article you will learn how digitalization and modern processing using intelligent, AI-based OCR (Optical Character Recognition) can help to remedy this situation and how important this is, especially in view of the upcoming worldwide distribution of COVID 19 vaccines.

Whether by rail, road, water or air, the transport of various goods has its advantages and disadvantages. Transportation by air freight is sometimes the most complex, as the conditions in the air are different and therefore additional security measures are required. The advantages of air freight are obvious: intercontinental and fast delivery, minimized storage costs and reliable delivery due to the independence from natural influences (at least as long as no volcano is active…) are only some of them.

It is not uncommon for air freight to contain dangerous goods. All dangerous goods regulations in air freight are subject to the regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The IATA determines in the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) under which conditions dangerous goods may be transported by air freight. For air freight companies, the correct handling of the individual dangerous goods has top priority. This is where the air waybill comes into play, which is internationally recognized by IATA as the sole accompanying document for goods and is the information basis for all air freight. From it, all data such as the air waybill number, name and address of the shipper or recipient, departure and destination airports and, as the most important point, information as to whether special handling is necessary, can be seen directly. If the field for special handling is filled in the AWB, this will inform you about a dangerous good and refers to the obligatory and separately attached document, the shipper’s declaration for dangerous goods DGD. This document is the most important document for air freight companies, as it provides further details about the dangerous goods and how the cargo must be transported. In addition to the information already mentioned on the AWB, the DGD contains the following details:

Transport details:

  • Passenger and/or cargo aircraft: depending on the dangerous goods, they may be transported in the cargo hold of a passenger aircraft, but only by cargo aircraft, as the case may be
  • Radioactive or non-radioactive: this field provides information about this aspect of the dangerous goods

Identification of dangerous goods:

  • UN number and shipping name: the UN number is an internationally defined number for all dangerous goods, which makes the dangerous goods class directly visible. In addition, the name is also written out in full, for example UN1977, liquid nitrogen
  • Quantity and type of packaging: here the net quantity, which is limited depending on the dangerous goods, is important, as is the type of packaging

The AWB together with the DGD form the essential basis for all transports for air freight companies. On the basis of practical examples this can look like this:

  • Living animals: when transporting living animals, it is essential for air freight companies whether the animals require special ventilation, heating or even cooling during transport. Exotic fish, for example, require a fast transfer including exact water temperatures in the transport packaging
  • Weapons: similar to the certificates of analysis, special certificates and attestations are required for the import of weapons, which must also be mentioned in the DGD and enclosed for the introduction into a country
  • COVID-19 vaccine: the upcoming global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is probably the most complex logistics operation ever undertaken for air freight. It is not the vaccine itself that is a hazardous material for air freight, but some of the ways in which the vaccines must be transported due to preservation. One of these types is liquid nitrogen, which is suitable as a means of transport in which air freight is considered dangerous goods and must therefore be declared as such. This in turn regulates the net quantity, which further increases the complexity of logistics

In air freight, a large number of different accompanying documents accumulate very quickly. If these are in paper form and a lot of data has to be manually checked and typed by a lot of people, then it becomes tedious and more complicated than necessary. By digitizing these accompanying documents, air cargo companies can access a wide range of data. Once the accompanying documents have been digitized, intelligent, AI-based OCR (Optical Character Recognition) takes over the next processes and automatically extracts all relevant data from the documents. The tedious process of typing and comparing data is completely eliminated. And not only that. Thanks to the AI-based OCR and the automated processing of delivery bills, air waybills and shipper’s declaration for dangerous goods, air cargo companies have detailed and real-time access to all important data at all times, which is enormously valuable not only with regard to the global distribution of COVID 19 vaccines.