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Standardizing the Industry with IATA’s New Cargo Handling Manual

You’ve got to hand it to cargo and ground handlers, they work in extremely tough conditions at all hours of the day, and on top of their normal duties, they are tasked with different requirements for each specific airline. This would be fine if there were only a few airlines, but it’s not like the old days anymore.

Nowadays, handlers need to apply operating rules and procedures a hundred different ways to meet hundreds of airlines’ requirements. In order to simplify and streamline cargo handling activities, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) has evaluated the needs of the industry and developed and published the IATA Cargo Handling Manual (ICHM), which will help airlines and handlers to work together more effectively while promoting safety and efficiency in air cargo operations.

For a deeper insight, Mr. André Majeres, Manager, Cargo & Mail Operations & Standard at IATA helped to explain the benefits that cargo handlers will get from implementing ICHM and how the ICHM can uplift the air cargo industry.

Moving the Industry Forward

While the IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM) has helped ground operators and airlines to standardize their activities, the industry still needed clear and efficient working instructions specifically for cargo handling activities. With diligent work, the IATA Cargo Committee and the IATA Cargo Handling Council (ICHC) recently introduced the ICHM to the industry at the World Cargo Symposium in Abu Dhabi in March 2017.

This manual is a key piece to unifying how cargo is managed across the supply chain. Air cargo has long been handled differently for each airline, and the manual’s objective is to harmonize all processes while recognizing each company’s need for specific requirements.

Mr. André Majeres, Manager, Cargo & Mail Operations & Standard, IATA

It’s still important to recognize the individual needs of each airline, but among all these different variations, IATA has found that more than 90 percent of the cargo handling operations are performed similarly. From this angle, it becomes clearer that the industry should be able to figure out the best way to accomplish a given task, agree on one best practice, and then adopt it across the spectrum.

Less Complexity

“This is the first edition of ICHM and we’ve received great initial feedback from the industry. Many airlines and cargo handlers are considering applying the ICHM to their operations,” said Mr. Majeres.

He also suggests that if the industry works together and agree on mutual recognition, it would be the only cargo handling manual for the entire industry to consider. It will help both airlines and cargo handlers to improve both speed and efficiency, and reduce on training and auditing costs.

It would be very beneficial and less complex if we can agree on one manual and apply it to all cargo handlers and airlines.

Mr. Majeres said, “A COO of one of the largest cargo handling companies in the world explained that his company employs six people just to look after the different manuals of each airline to ensure they are up-to-date and to deal with each airline’s audits. That means they must go through hundreds of airline cargo manuals to handle the exact same thing in the exact same way. It would be very beneficial and less complex if we can agree on one manual and apply it to all cargo handlers and airlines since the manual is already based on the industry best-practices and meets all of the international regulations and standards.”

Harmonization at Its Core

When they introduced the ICHM, IATA said the goal was for harmonization as its central core purpose. “This cargo handling manual has been endorsed by the industry as a recommended practice, through the members of the IATA Cargo Services Conference (CSC). It means that if you are to perform cargo handling activities in your cargo facility, we recommend that you follow the procedures and working instructions in this manual. This is the baseline, or minimum, that you should comply with in order to have safe operations. It will not only help to improve both efficiency and quality, reduce costs, and increase the speed of the flow of the goods, it also helps to decrease the incident of shipments being rejected too,” said Mr. Majeres.

Having the same baseline for cargo handling activities also benefits the air cargo operators in terms of audits. For ground handlers, the operations and facility standards have already been audited by IATA’s Safety Audit of Ground Operations (ISAGO). If the ground handlers also perform cargo handling activities, the auditor would only spend one or two more days evaluating cargo contents. Mr. Majeres said, “We work very closely with ISAGO to ensure that cargo handlers comply with all cargo related operations. ISAGO is now making reference to the ICHM and we continuously develop content as the manual evolves.”

Future Goals

Apart from introducing the ICHM, IATA is also planning to develop more training around cargo handling activities, to make sure that all parties related have the same basic practices. Mr. Majeres emphasized how important training is for cargo handling because the primary goal is safety. “The ICHC members are investigating existing cargo trainings and sharing their own material in order to provide the best recommendations on minimum training standards and competencies required for the specific tasks.”

It will allow cargo handlers and airlines to have a better understanding of the supply chain and other stakeholders’ responsibilities and be better prepared once the shipment is delivered at the cargo facility.

The industry is working on a Smart Facility Program of which the ICHM is the basis. Today each airline audits each of its cargo handlers which creates and generates huge inefficiencies with multiple audits checking the same basic activity. The Smart Facility program will introduce an independent industry standard facility audit program which will reduce the industry burden of duplicating audits and thus will reduce industry costs.

The ICHM was developed based on the Master Operating Plan (MOP), which includes the 19 steps of a shipment’s journey from shippers to consignees. It describes the whole process, even including some parts for the shippers and freight forwarders. Mr. Majeres stated that the next step for the cargo handling manual is to get the expertise from the shippers and freight forwarders communities. “This will make the scope of the ICHM even more robust. When implemented, it will allow cargo handlers and airlines to have a better understanding of the supply chain and other stakeholders’ responsibilities and be better prepared once the shipment is delivered at the cargo facility. Equally, freight forwarders and shippers will understand the impact of their responsibilities on the journey of their piece of cargo and anticipate any cause for rejection.”

To truly unify the air cargo industry, all parties need to move forward together in the same direction, and implementing this cargo handling manual is one of the first steps that can lead us towards standardization. IATA strongly believes that the ICHM will provide the necessary guidelines and working instructions for cargo handlers and more importantly to simplify the business and open the door to new opportunities.

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