In a step that could streamline the information flow supporting worldwide air cargo shipments, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it will accept export security and manifest messaging data from a standard adopted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global airline trade group, and widely used by carriers.
The move, announced last week by IATA in a communiqué, will create a direct messaging link between carriers and other cargo stakeholders on the one hand, and the U.S. customs agency on the other. Currently, CBP uses several formats, including a proprietary message platform, to accept export messages. Airlines seeking to communicate with the agency have been required to translate data from IATA's platform, known as Cargo-XML, to comply with the CBP format.
The new approach will accelerate the exchange of information and reduce the risk of errors, because export messaging data will be transmitted directly from the source to CBP and need not be manipulated to comply with the agency's messaging platforms, said Fany Flores-Pastor, director of research and development compliance systems for Descartes Systems Group Inc., a Waterloo, Ontario-based logistics software provider heavily involved in the air cargo sector.
In an e-mail, Flores-Pastor called the move a "huge step" for CBP. The agency, she said, is "catching up with other countries that have already been using Cargo-XML" to submit key manifest data in advance of cargo's arrival at origin airports.
In a statement, Nick Careen, IATA's senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo, and security, said CBP's move will "positively contribute" to the airlines' meeting their goal of using a uniform worldwide cargo messaging system.
CBP said it will pilot the initiative later this month or in early September, at which time the trade can begin submitting test data in the Cargo-XML format. The change will only affect U.S. exports; a similar program for U.S. imports may be considered at a later date, according to an agency spokeswoman.
The global air cargo industry has long been slow to adopt digital processes to support its supply chain. The inability to consistently connect all stakeholders results in a typical international shipment booked by a freight forwarder and flown in the belly of a passenger aircraft taking as long as seven days to reach its final destination, even though the consignment will arrive at the destination airport in less than a day. A shipment may spend up to 80 percent of its time languishing in customs waiting to be processed and cleared, or stuck in a supply chain maze that can include the ground-handling agent, a trucker, an importer, and a customs broker.
Delivery delays caused by the lack of digitization often neutralize the speed advantages inherent in air transportation. They also make it difficult for current and potential users to justify the premium price of air services relative to a slower, cheaper mode such as ocean freight.
The project with IATA is part of CBP's multimodal effort to reduce the extensive number of electronic data interchange (EDI) message formats used to process international data in favor of what the agency termed in an e-mail referring to Cargo-XML a "more generalized" format.