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Thu 1 Apr 2004 04:00 AM

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On the belt

Dubai’s Express Handling Centre (EHC) is greatly accelerating the processing of shipments at the airport. Express operators have seen the time taken to clear inbound shipments, for instance, halved.

I|~|express_m.jpg|~||~|Express deliveries are the fastest growing segment of the air cargo market worldwide, as courier companies move out of delivering documents and into handling larger packages. Dubai Airport has now recognised this booming business with the opening of the Express Handling Centre (EHC), which is operated by Dnata Cargo. The centre has halved the time needed to clear an express package before take off to just an hour and also slashed the time taken to process incoming deliveries from two hours down to 45 minutes.

Previously express companies have not had a dedicated facility at Dubai; however, with the airport handling 1.1 million express packages last year, and with this figure expected to hit 1.3 million this year, it was decided that express handling needed a specialised centre. “The express [business] has grown from nothing at Dubai Airport to being something very substantial,” says Jean-Pierre de Pauw, senior vice president, Dnata Cargo.

The EHC, which was designed by Dar Al-Handasah and built by Al-Habtoor,, will this help this business develop further. The centre has greatly enhanced Dubai’s ability to deal with express packages, making the process both quicker and more efficient. In its first month alone, it handled 86 900 express packages, at an average rate of more than 200 an hour; at peak times, the system can handle 540 package per hour. This is considerably quicker than express shipments could previously move through the airport, and customers have noted the difference.

“Moving our operations to the EHC has brought tangible benefits to the business,” comments Ramiro Pereira, regional hub & gateway manager, TNT. “The automated system not only allows us to be more efficient, but also gives us immediate access to real time information on flights and shipments.”

“We can now provide better service to our customers with reduced shipment transit times, earlier deliveries and an expanded service offering, because we can now meet the service window time for more connections,” he adds.

Achieving these timesavings has involved a combination of technological innovation, process re-engineering, as well as the creation of a dedicated centre and staff focused on express deliveries. The centre has also pulled together and automated all of the processes that an express package needs to go through, including security and customs, to dramatically speed up the paperwork.

Before the EHC, which is built in a former Emirates hangar in the Dubai Cargo Village, opened in February, express packages were handled using the same processes as perishable items. This meant that while they were guaranteed to be delivered to the operator within two hours, there was no dedicated facility or channel for them. As such, potential timesavings were not being exploited and large third party logistics providers (3PLs), such as UPS, DHL and FedEx, had built their own centres to speed up shipment processing. This option was beyond the smaller players, but the EHC now allows all express operators to benefit from having access to a dedicated facility. “What we have done here is provide a solution that allows the smaller and medium sized [express companies] to compete,” says de Pauw.

14 companies have facilities in the centre including Aramex, TNT and Speedlink. Each has dedicated offices within the building and they are able to drive vans into the centre and up to the conveyer belts that form the heart of the EHC system. They can then load packages directly onto and off the belt without having to wait for them to be handled by another party.||**||II|~|Great Dane_m.jpg|~|Dnata Cargo's Jean-Pierre de Pauw|~|Two conveyor belts and automated sensors, which were all installed by ASL, are key to many of the efficiencies generated by the EHC. These belts automatically carry packages, both inbound and outbound, through all of the stages that need to be cleared before they can enter or leave the county, and thereby greatly speed up processing times.

Before being put onto the outbound belt, all packages are labelled with a barcode, which can be read by sensors at each stage of the clearance process. The packages are then transported along the belt, and carried up to a security station where they are x-rayed by the Dubai Customs and Police. The bags are then automatically weighed and measured by sensors positioned around the belt, and then these measurements crosschecked by the computer with the initial data from the express operator.

After being weighed, the parcels then move down the belt and leave the building. Outside, the packages are picked up by Dnata staff and loaded into the ULD for the flight they are to go on. Each assignment is also scanned by the handler with a handheld device from Symbol to ensure that it is placed in the right container. “If the operator scans the wrong package then the scanner will give an alert, as it is wirelessly linked to the computer in real time,” says de Pauw. “The computer system knows what was scanned [earlier on the belt], what it expects to be scanned, what the destination is for each package and so on,” he adds.

After all of the packages are loaded into the ULD, the container is driven to the aircraft by one of the centre’s eight dedicated high-speed towing tractors or three rapid delivery vehicles. There, the container is loaded onto the aircraft at the last possible moment in case of any last minute shipments. “It’s the last container to go onboard — with the last container of baggage — before they close the [hold] doors,” says de Pauw.

The driver and assistant also have handheld devices that enable them to stay in contact with the centre when loading the aircraft. As such, if a ULD needs to broken up into bulk load or if a last minute delivery arrives, they can be altered via the handheld, which connects back to the centre via the airport’s campus-wide wireless local area network (WLAN). “All elements can be updated [at the aircraft] instantly online using the handheld terminals,” notes de Pauw.

After delivering the ULD, the driver is informed by the handheld of the next arriving aircraft with express packages onboard that need collecting. They can then go straight there without needing to return to the centre for instructions. After collecting the incoming shipment, the driver delivers them to the EHC and then loads them onto the inbound belt. The packages are then automatically carried through the security and customs checks, and then to the operators’ personnel waiting at the other end.

“That [dedicated driver] allows us to reach the facility within half an hour of the flight’s arrival and get [a package] processed within the facility, security inspected and customs cleared, within the next half an hour,” says de Pauw. “So, within a maximum of an hour, the goods are in the hands of the express operator.”

Furthermore, because the operators now have facilities within the EHC, next to the conveyor belt, they are able to sort loads more quickly for connecting flights. Previously, the express companies would have collected their packages and then take them to their sorting centre either elsewhere in the Cargo Village or somewhere else in Dubai. Now, however, they are able to open incoming packages in the EHC, and resort the packages for either delivery by road within the UAE or to be consolidated with outgoing deliveries onto connecting flights.

“[Sorting therefore] becomes possible in a much shorter time, which means that transit also becomes faster and the operators can reach their customers faster and they can become more competitive,” says de Pauw.||**||III|~||~||~|Alongside the conveyor belts, the key to the successful functioning of the centre is Camsys (courier and mail system), the core IT system developed by Mercator, the IT arm of the Emirates Group. This system hosts and integrates all of the data needed to allow packages to smoothly pass through the centre, and it also greatly cuts down on the paperwork for the operators.

Prior to the implementation of the Camsys, a host of difference offices would have needed to have generated documents before an express package could be put onto an aircraft, such as airwaybills, manifests, and customs dues. However, these have now all been automated and integrated into the Camsys system. “A big part of the time taken to close a shipment between a consignee and an aircraft is documentation-related,” notes de Pauw. “What we have tried to do with the inline processes and the pre-alert information [on Camsys] is to eliminate the paperwork, which allows us to save time.”

The process for Camsys is started by the express operators themselves, who can access the system via terminals in their offices in the facility. These units offer a host of functions including allowing access to flight information, as well as enabling staff to assign an airwaybill to an outgoing package. The operators can also list the weight and measurement of the package and print off the barcodes that are the key to the conveyor belt process. “By adding a terminal inside their premises in the Express Centre, [operators] are not only able to view the status of their inbound shipments, but they are also able to advise us on the status of their outbound shipments,” explains de Pauw.

Camsys collects all of the data related to each package and correlates it with each flight. As such, when all of the parcels for that aircraft have passed through the conveyor belt system, it is able to print all of the documents that need to accompany the flight. “The moment the last package goes through the processes on the belt, it is sufficient to confirm the cut-off point, which triggers all of the paperwork automatically,” says de Pauw.

However, although the system prints an airwaybill for each outbound shipment, it also collects all of the data for each express operator centrally. Then, at the end of the eight-hour shift, this information is printed off in a single form for the customs department and the operator. This is much simpler than dealing with individual forms for possibly hundreds of different packages. “At the end of the shift, you can print the consolidated statement, so you don’t have to transact on an individual shipment level, you transact on a shift level instead,” says de Pauw.

Doing this is clearly beneficial to the operators, and it also required a change of approach from Dubai Customs. Previously, like most other customs authorities worldwide, it would inspect and process each package individually. Now, however, the dedicated customs post only sees a package when it passes along the belt to be x-rayed, and this is its only opportunity to incept and inspect the goods inside. Once a parcel goes past this stage, it is taken by the belt straight to the operators who can leave with it even before the paperwork is done. “Customs [authorities] will not normally clear anything before bills of entry are made, before inspections are made, before duties are paid and so on,” says de Pauw. “With customs here, we have put a process in place where everything happens at the end of the shift; not before the shipment leaves [the building], but after it has gone already.”

“It cuts down on the amount of paperwork, and it allows the shipment to move faster as you can do [the paperwork] after the shipment has already left,” he adds.
Dubai Customs has also increased its staffing levels at the centre to help speed up the process. “The nature of the express business requires quick turnaround times, and that is why we have more than doubled our staff on duty at the express centre, particularly during peak hours,” comments Sultan Murad Al-Joker, Dubai Customs’s director general for air & land customs.

Such has been the success of the EHC, the companies operating in it are already looking to expand their premises, and others have come into an annexe nearby. The hangar still has room for further growth and Dnata is already looking at using this space. “Lots of the companies in there would like more space,” says de Pauw.||**||

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