Frankfurt Airport digitalizes vehicle movement for seamless freight processing

Published: Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Faced with increasing cargo volumes, Frankfurt Airport has turned to digitalization to make better use of its existing infrastructure and resources while facilitating seamless operations.

The pandemic has accelerated the digitalization of air cargo processes and paved the way for the emergence of tech-ridden and innovative trends to create a seamless movement of goods throughout the supply-chain.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) pointed out in its 2021 report for global air cargo markets that the demand for digitalization in the industry is on upward trajectory as the world transitions to a more fast-paced digital transactions.

To cope with the rising demand for global e-commerce industry, the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies, compounded by its main mission of facilitating global trade through the safe transportation of general and special cargo, the airfreight industry is forecast to steadily grow in the foreseeable future.

Against this backdraft and the congestion of shipments at various international ports, digitalization is proving invaluable to speed up the flow of the movement goods.

According to a report published by Allied Market Research, the global digital freight forwarding market generated $2.92 billion in 2020. It is anticipated to reach $22.92 billion in 2030, manifesting a CAGR of 23.1%.

Frankfurt Airport, Europe’s largest and one of the busiest

In 2021, about 261,927 aircraft took off and landed at Frankfurt Airport, up by 23.4 percent year-on-year compared to 2020 but still below the pre-pandemic level in 2019.

While these aircraft movements account for both passengers and cargo, there’s no denying that a significant portion of the volumes account for various goods.

Fraport AG, the operator of Frankfurt Airport, said cargo throughput at the airport in 2021, comprised of both airfreight and airmail, grew by 18.7 percent year-on-year to about 2.32 million metric tons—the highest annual volume ever achieved in the history of Frankfurt Airport.

A breakdown by the two cargo subcategories reveals that airfreight was the main driver behind this growth, while airmail continued to be affected by the lack of belly capacity on passenger aircraft.

Introducing FAIR@Link

Amid increasing volumes of cargo, Fraport introduced in 2015 a neutral data platform known as FAIR@Link, then considered an important milestone of digitalizing the process at Frankfurt Airport.

Today, FAIR@Link already enables more than 700 companies and authorities—handling agents, forwarders, truckers and airlines—to optimize and accelerate their transport and freight processes on the import and export side. The platform has also been running at Hamburg Airport since 2019.

Dirk Gladiator, Director Cargo Communications – DAKOSY AG and Max Philipp Conrady, VP Cargo Development at Fraport AG explains to Air Cargo Update how FAIR@link is further enhanced to support the digitalization growth in their ecosystem.

FAIR@Link is a neutral and cross-industry platform. There are open interfaces for any company that needs/wants to exchange data with FAIR@Link. With the help of the interfaces, the processes can be easily integrated into the company’s own IT.

FAIR@Link has a modular structure and is adapted to the special requirements of the respective airport and its logistics customers. Depending on requirements, customs, security, dangerous goods and SCM processes are also supported – often even automatically.

Software company DAKOSY’s Director for Cargo Communications Dirk Gladiator explains: “FAIR@Link, is used to digitalize air cargo processes and connect the various process partners along the supply chain in order to speed up and foster robust and transparent air freight handling in export and import.  It is in general terms, a data exchange platform that brings together all shipment information data exchanged with the relevant process partners. This is not a trivial task, but a basic requirement for future cargo processes and it can be transferred and installed at various airports, On top of that data layer various applications for the various connected stakeholder, like handling agents, freight forwarders but also truckers are already available. These applications have local configuration settings and may underlay certain local limitations or particularities.”

According to Gladiator, a local layer, so-called FRA-OS, was introduced with the implementation of the newest import application at Frankfurt Airport.

1 – FAIR@Link is currently operated in FRA and HAM

2 – FAIR@Link was developed by DAKOSY in close cooperation with the Air Cargo Community Frankfurt e.V. and is distributed and operated by DAKOSY only.

“With the launch of FAIR@Link in Frankfurt we laid the foundation for smooth handling processes and data exchange across the supply chain partners. The basic community platform has been expanded since its launch 2015 for several times and further applications are being developed continuously,” Gladiator continues.

Other milestones 

With continuously growing volumes, cargo operations at Frankfurt Airport are reaching capacity restraints. Digitalization is one major enabler to make better use of existing resources and increase capacity not only for more cargo growth but also for better performance.

Conrady of Fraport AG said, “The introduction and further development of FAIR@Link has enabled various milestones to be reached in the digitization of cargo processes at Frankfurt Airport. The introduction of FRA-OS/ Import last year deserves special mention. FRA-OS stands for Frankfurt Airport Operational System and is powered by the FAIR@Link data layer”

FRA-OS/ Import, as the first module of FRA-OS, is an important corner stone for EU compliant import processes and essential to preserve the handling of consolidated shipments at Frankfurt

“Another important milestone was the introduction of the ramp control system. This system helps to avoid waiting times in CargoCity South and thus contributes to a smooth flow of traffic. More than 700 truck companies are already regularly using FAIR@Link to book slots with the large handling agents on site. With the upcoming integration of our largest handling agent in the CCS, FCS Frankfurt Cargo Services GmbH, nearly 100% of delivery vehicles will be using the slot booking system. Just a few days ago, we have reached another milestone, connecting FAIR@link and specifically the ramp control system with Fraport’s Click-2-drive automatic license plate detection system.

“As a result, the entry barriers at Gates 31 and 32 of Frankfurt Airport’s CargoCity South will automatically open for vehicles that have a confirmed time slot in the FAIR@Link system for loading or unloading at one of the warehouses operating there. The new interface delivers major time savings for forwarders and truckers who take advantage of the FAIR@Link slot booking system. When booking a slot, they provide all the information needed for Click-2-drive. By connecting both systems, we have succeeded in implementing a faster, leaner process for managing all delivery and pick-up traffic,” Conrady explains further.

Automatic license plate detection

Digitization has proved to be important during the pandemic, enabling many contactless processes. Slot booking or registration for entering Frankfurt Airport’s CargoCity South is now possible without personal contact with the help of digital solution. Nevertheless, airfreight is a hands-on industry.

“You will always need highly trained staff to successfully ship goods via airfreight. This became especially visible during the pandemic when high sickness rates challenged the whole industry. Digitalization can compensate at least for some of these absences. But we are still witnessing that digitalization has not progressed so far to fully substitute manual work – it probably never will, and this is important. Digital solutions can only work if you have people using it properly,” said Conrady.

“With Fair@Link we have a solid cornerstone of valuable information, that we would like all local process partners to make use of in order to provide more fluent and more robust cargo operations at Frankfurt airport,” he added.

FAIR@Link cargo community platform is now digitally linked with the Click-2-drive automatic license plate detection system.

The result: starting immediately, barriers at Gates 21 and 32 at Frankfurt Airport’s CargoCity South will automatically open for vehicles with confirmed time slot in the FAIR@Link system for loading or unloading at one of the forwarders operating there.

The Intelligent networking of automatic license plate detection with FAIR@Link cargo community platform is a major time saving for forwarders and truckers who take advantage of its slot booking system.

When booking a slot, they provide all of the information needed for Click-2-drive. Fraport installed the Click-2-drive automatic license plate detection system at gates 31 and 32 last year. Now, when a registered vehicle drives up to the entrance barrier the system not only scans its license plate but also queries FAIR@Link to see if there is a corresponding slot booking.

If so, the barrier opens to let the vehicle through. In case the license plate number isn’t recognized or the driver isn’t using the vehicle specified when booking the slot, they can scan the QR code received when registering to gain admission.

“FAIR@Link has a modular structure and is adapted to the special requirements of the respective airports and their logistics customers. Depending on individual needs, it can also support Customs, security, dangerous goods and SCM processes – and in many cases can even be automated,” said Gladiator.

According to Conrady, at the moment, too many processes in airfreight handling are fractured – they are neither data-driven nor integrated. The air cargo industry will benefit from digital solutions more and more. Here, collaboration and data sharing will be the success factor. With this kind of network, all authorized persons along the supply chain will get access to the information needed so that things will be more predictable and at the same time as flexible as now.

To achieve this, a trustworthy cooperation is essential. On the other hand, digitalization on its own would not work. To achieve the right balance between digital and physical infrastructure, high skilled talents will always be needed to interfere in special processes and support a smooth cargo handling.

Conrady noted, “The cargo community platform was already introduced in 2015. Already back then, we recognized the need to network the supply chain partners on site and pushed ahead with the development of FAIR@Link together with leading freight forwarders, freight handlers and DAKOSY. Since then, FAIR@Link allows the exchange of shipment data across companies and thus helping to guarantee smooth and reliable processes in the air freight process chain. It therefore is the basis for further digitalization.

“In an ideal world, airports will develop to digital transfer hubs with worldwide standardized messages and interfaces, so that everyone speaks the same language. Industry representatives accept and trust in data sharing so that everyone understands the benefits from sharing information. In this world, technical solutions will improve fast, and we will work in a global digital ecosystem for efficient and secure data exchange.

“Following there would be almost no unpredictable disruption of operations, but rather well-prepared processes, pre-planned what-if scenarios, new collaboration models and automation at its best. The industry has already reached a lot of these goals, but we all have a long way to go to fully adopt digitalization.