Filling Global Shipping Data Gaps with Air and Ocean Visibility

The supply chain industry has been put to the test this year, and the challenges are far from over. While over the road transportation is a key focus for many companies, international transport is becoming increasingly complex for global organizations.

Trade wars and tariffs aside (and that’s a big aside), supply chains are dealing with volatile ocean and air freight conditions. Both are grappling with capacity constraints that are drastically increasing rates. From the global pandemic to extreme weather events, shippers with international supply chains have had to be resilient.

For some shippers, these roadblocks may lead them to re-think shipment mode, switching between ocean and air depending on market condition and supply chain needs. However, shippers should not need to sacrifice visibility if they need to quickly change course. With insight across air and ocean cargo, they can increase agility and mitigate supply chain disruption.

How Covid-19 Has Impacted Air and Ocean Freight This Year

Covid-19 has caused unexpected and turbulent shifts for transportation, including air and ocean. When Covid-19 restrictions first went into place, passenger flights quickly decreased causing limited capacity for freight that would typically travel in the belly of the plane.

While ocean cargo faced its own shifts, such as decreased volumes from China, it became a back up option to some shippers that typically relied on air. For example, one project44 customer — a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company — quickly switched to from passenger air shipments to ocean carriage in order to continue moving critical European supply flows to the U.S.

Recently, container capacity in Asia was limited, making it harder for shippers to secure ocean cargo. In a recent FreightWaves article, Containers are the New Gold Amid Black Swan Box Squeeze, Ocean Audit founder Steve Ferreria said, “It’s not really a shortage. It’s more that the containers are out of position. Because of strong growth in places like Africa and South America — the more minor trades — the containers are out of position.”

While ocean capacity is returning to normal levels, there is a high level of freight driven by ecommerce and peak season. With increased volume, space is tight and rates are high.

Meanwhile, air haulers are finding more creative solutions. An increasing number of airlines are starting to fill passenger aircrafts to the brim with cargo. In hopes to turn around the air cargo market while travel remains considerably low, these airlines like United, Delta, American, and Emirates are trying out cargo-only flights.

Why Natural Disasters are Creating More Problems for Supply Chains

On top of a global pandemic, extreme weather events cannot be ignored. Natural disasters are nothing new for supply chain professionals, however, the rate of these events continues to increase. Over the last 20 years, climate-related disasters have increased 83% with China and the United States suffering from the highest number of natural disasters.

Each weather event can cause a different impact on the supply chain. As we near the end of a very active hurricane season, there have been 11 hurricanes, 17 tropical storms, and 1 subtropical storm during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. These storms make it challenging to plan ocean cargo and mitigate delays in transit and at potentially impacted ports.

Many supply chains are used to planning for weather events, however, circumstances have changed with increased disasters on top of a global pandemic. When faced with unexpected or potential extreme weather delays, one option is to switch to air freight. While it might cost more, it would allow shippers to expedite cargo and ensure it’s not delayed by the storms.

The Flexibility to Switch from Ocean to Air Freight without Gaps in Visibility

While this year’s hurricane season is coming to an end, and many are hopeful for a Covid-19 vaccine in the near future, this year has proven that supply chains must be ready for any disruption that comes their way. Rather than planning for various disruptions that could occur, shippers should focus on increasing agility to shift gears quickly when faced with future challenges.

A key piece of gaining the control needed for this level of agility is having visibility across the entire supply chain. This means gaining access to real-time transportation visibility data across modes and regions.

In a recent CSCMP session, Gregory Pritchard, Head of Global Logistics and JAPAC Distribution at AbbVie, discussed ways real-time visibility can help supply chains navigate disruption, explaining, “Immediate real-time understanding of the position of your shipments, and then being able to respond, creates a level of added assurance for your customers and enhances that service experience.”

As global trade and international supply chains become more complex, project44 has built a comprehensive solution creating a seamless visibility experience across modes and regions. This means the ability to quickly switch from air to ocean cargo, or vice versa, and being able to track your shipment the entire time.

Remember the pharmaceutical company mentioned earlier in this article that had to quickly move freight to travel by ocean instead of air when Covid-19 first hit? They were able to easily set up project44’s ocean container tracking solution to keep a close eye on their high-value freight and know when it would arrive.

And it works the other way too. project44 launched air freight visibility in May, allowing global shippers to fill visibility gaps in the journey of high-value or urgent cargo. As these disruptions continue to evolve, extensive real-time visibility will enable supply chains to remain agile with optionality and a single source of truth.

To learn more about project44’s Air or Ocean Visibility solutions, reach out to the team.