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Networking the cargo component in an airline operation.

Today, cargo can serve as an important revenue component in the passenger and space equation of an airline's scheduled service. An air cargo network provides an airline's flight analyst or planner the ability to make good use of all available load space to increase the revenue from any of the airline's scheduled flights.

Air cargo shipments are providing an increasingly important source of revenue to an airline and have proven an effective vehicle with which to optimize the rate of return on any scheduled passenger flight. Through the implementation of well-designed computer-based technology and a supporting network, it is possible to optimize the rate of return on the available load space of any scheduled passenger flight.

To do this, a flight analyst must be supported by application software that provides the capability to plan, prioritize, route, and control cargo as it moves from the shipper to the airline's receiving point and ultimately its distant port. Further, an interoperative networking technology must be in place to allow the airline to distribute the availability of its cargo space to an ever-increasing number of freight agents on a worldwide scale, thus ensuring a defined market share for the airline.

A good example of an airline that has refined its ability to capitalize on the cargo carrying capability of its passenger service is Sabena Airlines. Starting back in the late 1970s, the company realized the opportunity to enhance its revenue position by taking advantage of the available cargo space on international flights.

It first launched import-export operations utilizing two separate systems in support of the Brussels operations. The major system, the import operations, ran on an IBM mainframe; the export operations, a much smaller enterprise, ran on a small computer system. These soon proved inadequate to handle the new business opportunity.

It was not until the early 1980s that the company was able to integrate these systems and further expand operations. Through a series of cooperative developments with UNISYS, Sabena successfully brought together the integration of import and export operations.

By 1984, the company was able to support the Brussels and Antwerp cargo operations through the implementation of UNISYS's USAS CGO system. The comprehensive state-of-the-art system allowed Sabena to support its cargo data capture operations, import and export documentation, cargo shipments, and warehouse operations.

Today, Sabena is able to support direct data entry for all manifests, import and export invoices, warehouse control, location of shipments, space control, and support a growing list of cargo agents. In addition, it supports more than 55 stations worldwide with a total of over 575 terminal users.

Out of some 200,000 transactions that move throughout the network each day, approximately 30% of this traffic (60,000 transactions) is dedicated cargo transations. A single cargo transaction costs from 3 to 4 Belgian francs, or approximately $0.10 U.S., to process. This represents a marked improvement over earlier, more costly, manual procedures.

Ernest Van Den broeck, manager of cargo systems development for Sabena, says that the UNISYS USAS CGO system has allowed Sabena to shorten cargo acceptance times, bringing shipments closer to flight times. This, he says, has allowed Sabena to increase cargo throughput by as much as 98% to 110% over previous years and increase revenues from cargo proportionately.

Further, Mr. Van Den broeck was quick to point out that the UNISYS USAS CGO system has also reduced the time for locating cargo within warehouse locations. This, he says, has greatly improved cargo throughput and reduced the cost of handling cargo within the warehouse.

Another advantage of the new cargo system was that it enabled the Brussels-based Sabena flight analysts to more closely control flights. This enabled the airline to optimize the load factors for each flight, which in turn made possible a better rate of return on all passenger flights. In this way, a maximum return was realized from each flight, depending upon the then-current volume of cargo.

An integrated network

Such an operation requires a comprehensive network to support the many terminal users that required access to this new service center. Prior to 1986, the network was limited to internal access; however, Sabena soon found out it had to expand access to the network to encompass a larger and more diverse user population.

The heart of the Sabena network based upon dual 2200/400 UNISYS mainframe computers served by dual DCP30 front-end processors. Through this network arrangement, a diverse number of terminal users can be served and a growing number of foreign computer platform interfaces can be supported. However, the Sabena network is also one of several nodes on a vast X.25 network which includes SITA, the international airlines network.

The Brussels Airport Authority sponsors a system which will be used as an intermediary to the shipping community and those airlines providing cargo services, including Sabena's USAS CGO system. The community system will reside on a DEC VAX running VMS and be linked to the Sabena network through Belgium's X.25 public data communications network (DCS). Other community systems located in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Dublin, and London will also be linked via X.25 links to the Sabena system.

Shipping firms may be tied into the community system via an asynchronous terminal or, in some cases, via their own system (IBM AS-400, IBM 3800, etc.). The community system supplies a menu of shipping services available and automatically will link the shipper to any of the services. Sabena is one of the services available. It provides a service to the prospective shipper which includes cargo bookings, air bill creation, and status inquiry. Through this offering, a shipper is able to develop the required shipping documents, including a bar code label (see sidebar) which can be used to identify cargo. Access to the Sabena USAS CGO system is also available through direct analog dial-up at 300 to 4800 KPBS, as well as via Telex which is still used throughout the continent.

OSI and heterogeneous connectivity

Sabena must link an expanded community of users which require access to the information contained in the cargo database. For example, Sabena operates a large-scale IBM 3090 mainframe which supports all of the administrative functions of the airline.

The UNISYS DPC 30's provides an SNA/NET link as well as IBM 3270 emulation for the IBM 3270 terminal users on the IBM SNA network. These users require access to a cargo statistics database maintained by a MAPPER program on the UNISYS 2200/400 system. In addition, SNA/NET connectivity on the UNISYS DPC 30's allows freight agencies with IBM AS-400, IBM 38001 and a variety of UNIX-based systems to access the Sabena cargo system resident on UNISYS 2200/400'S IN X.25 or SDLC protocol.

Another system linked to the Sabena network via an X.25 link is the Belgium customs system, which supports customs operations throughout the country. As cargo shipments are put through the Sabena system, messages are generated which are then sent to the customs system. In this way, the Belgium customs agency is able to track all shipments flowing through the Brussels cargo area.

Sabena is in an excellent position to continue to add more users on the network due to the suite of OSI protocols observed by UNISYS, such as FTAM, X.400 MHS, Virtual Terminal, etc. This capability will allow the company to interface a number of UNIX and MS DOS platforms. This will allow IBM, DEC, NCR, Data General and other popular computer platforms to access the USAS CGO system and support the users behind these systems as if they were direct Sabena users. Thus, Sabena has positioned itself to serve a continuing customer base worldwide.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Travel/Hospitality; includes related article on wide area networking
Publication:Communications News
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:SAS voice response system improves service, builds revenues.
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