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From A to B: how your mail flies around the world

When ordering an item online, many of us expect our package to arrive quickly to our front door, but few of us consider how it crosses continents to get there – that is because cooperation between Posts and airlines, facilitated by the UPU and IATA, means customers don’t have to worry.

Cooperation between Posts and airlines goes back more than 60 years, with the UPU and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – which today represents some 290 airlines – having worked together since 1956.

“In the ‘global supply chain’ items are moved across the globe and airline transport is one of the most efficient modes of moving items across continents, so the air transport sector is not only considered a partner, but a central and integral section of the supply chain,” explains Noor Adan, the UPU’s Supply Chain Management Coordinator.

“Today, the vehicle for postal-airline cooperation is the UPU-IATA Contact Committee,” he adds.

Through the Committee, the two organizations are able to coordinate their efforts to move postal items through the air. It has a work plan, which, over the past several years, has focused on electronic data exchange, safety and security standards, and operational matters, such as mail handover and quality of service.

It also develops guidelines on air transport and organizes capacity-building workshops for Posts and airlines.

Completing the communication loop

Facilitating the exchange of electronic data interchange (EDI) messages between Posts, airlines and Customs has been a priority over the last several years as e-commerce drives up international parcel volumes.

UPU Transport Programme Manager Jan Bojnansky explains that the UPU envisions a future where all supply chain partners are able to send, receive and search for data for each leg of an item’s journey – something he refers to as the “global postal model”. The model includes two flows for airlines – pre-loading and pre-arrival information.

In the last two years, the Contact Committee has doubled the number of Posts and airlines able to exchange electronic data to more than 120 designated postal operators and over 60 airlines.

“The information received helps with the visibility and traceability of items while in the airline’s custody – they get a list of items in each dispatch, addresses, information needed for identifying security risks or for Customs purposes,” he says.

In April, the UPU’s Postal Operations Council and Council of Administration approved a proposal to let some supply chain partners, such as airlines and Customs, have access to the organizations technical solutions for EDI.

“Right now we are simply pushing data to each other. The wider access policy approved by the UPU Councils allows for a centralized platform so stakeholders can access what they need on demand and pull the data required,” says Bojnansky.

Airlines should be fully connected to exchange data with Posts in two steps by March 2023 to meet all new regulatory requirements, with two pilot projects already underway – one between Qatar Airways and La Poste France, and one between Swiss International Air Lines and Swiss Post.

In the long term, Adan and Bojnansky say that the UPU will need to work on a volume-forecasting tool as more airlines request pre-advice on shipment volumes.

The Contact Committee is working on the new monitoring and reporting system to measure transportation times on the dispatch and consignment levels. It will also measure the compliance of transport messages to all EDI standards once more Posts and airlines are connected and exchanging the new data elements focused on security and critical operational times.