With the introduction of new Bluetooth tracking technology, Delta Air Lines is set to become the first US airline and the first major worldwide carrier to provide real-time tracking for all of its unit load devices (ULDs) – and, by extension, the cargo within them.
Its freight subsidiary Delta Cargo said this move “marks a new era” for the air cargo carrier and the more than 500 million kilogrammes of cargo it flies annually. It said the technology will replace manual tracking for all unit load device (ULD) shipping containers, which move air cargo shipments, baggage and mail globally.
“Our customers have told us they want improved tracking and immediate transparency for ULD shipments, and this best-in-class product will deliver exactly that,” said Shawn Cole, Delta’s vice president for cargo, “Our innovative tracking technology, in conjunction with our 24/7 cargo control centre, gives us the competitive edge when it comes to serving our customers.”
Delta said the real-time ULD tracking information would also allow Delta’s cargo control centre to more accurately monitor and reroute shipments that are delayed due to irregular operations, like inclement weather. When implemented, the new tracking system will also enable Delta to produce electronic unit control receipts, which is required by the International Air Transport Association when ULDs are transferred between parties – making Delta the first airline to offer a fully automated solution for customer transactions.
Delta was the first major airline to test Bluetooth tracking technology, beginning in 2016, and has since deployed readers to 23 locations. By the end of 2018, the tracking system will be available on all of Delta’s ULDs, with more than 1,400 readers tracking customer shipments at more than 200 airports across six continents.
The airline said its current GPS-enabled cargo tracking products, including a recently announced service for highly time-sensitive shipments called Equation Critical, will continue to be available for both narrow body and wide-body aircraft shipments travelling internationally and within the US.
Elsewhere in the world, Air New Zealand has also been trialling the use of Bluetooth-based ULD tracking technology, along with ULD specialist ACL Airshop, although it was unclear at the time of writing how advanced those developments are.
Ian Craig, MD of Bluetooth specialist Core Transport Technologies, told Lloyd’s Loading List that 2018 will be “the breakout year for Bluetooth technology” as it will become a major disruptive technology for the air cargo industry.
“Today, companies have developed software and firmware solutions which combined with Bluetooth LE allows for tracking of assets at low cost, low power consumption rate, and distance rates which reduce manual intervention,” he said. “This industry disruptive technology and its application in the air cargo industry allows for less human intervention, labour costs, and improved accuracy by eliminating the human reporting element.”
Craig continued: “The applications are currently being applied to the widebody container movements – with associations being made between the tagged container and cargo shipments (air waybills) nested inside them, the new Bluetooth technology opens more visibility of cargo shipments for tracking, tracing, and invoicing. Companies such as Air New Zealand and ACL Airshop are beginning to increase their use of Bluetooth LE − in response to the e-commerce boom and to increase their customer’s experience.”