How artificial intelligence is keeping time-critical shipments on track during pandemic

Consumers are seeing and feeling the impact of COVID-19 supply chain interruptions and delays in their everyday lives, from shortages of paper goods and cleaning supplies in grocery stores, to rising prices for beef and poultry.

For specialized industries such as health care and aerospace, however, the stakes of supply chain interruptions and service failures have perhaps never been higher. So far the traditional hub-and-spoke time-critical logistics industry has largely struggled to adapt, while newer technology-enabled models in the industry are showing significant promise to perform in a crisis.

Artificial intelligence (AI) platforms in particular have shown remarkable resilience during the COVID-19 crisis and the ability to quickly pivot shipments with minimal delays and service failures. California-based Airspace Technologies was one of the first logistics providers in the time-critical space to implement a breakthrough AI-powered platform that they say has enabled them to swiftly adjust operations without interruptions to their 24/7, 365-days-a-year services.

“Airspace was built with moments like these in mind. It was designed to perform in a crisis when time is of the essence and lives and entire industries are quite literally on the line,” said Airspace Technologies CEO and co-founder Nick Bulcao.

With years of experience specializing in urgent medical deliveries, such as organs for transplant, as well as aerospace parts for downed aircraft, Airspace says they have noticed a significant impact on their business as elective surgeries are delayed and less aircraft are flying. But the automated, AI-driven software that is the heartbeat of their operations has made adjusting to the new realities of the industry immensely more manageable.

With lives on the line, Airspace moved quickly to set up new shipment networks and routes each day to begin transporting urgently needed COVID-19 test kits, blood and plasma units, and vital organs for transplant to get where they need to go. Their fully transparent, automated software platform also allows minute-by-minute real-time tracking of deliveries, so hospitals and labs know exactly where kits or urgent supplies are and when they will arrive.

Airspace is currently making between 250 and 300 health care-related deliveries each day, and has transported as many as 30 organs in just one week.

The company’s aerospace parts delivery business has had its own heroic moments during the COVID-19 crisis. An independent delivery driver for Airspace in the Bay Area recounted a harrowing incident last month in which he was asked to make a critical aerospace part delivery not to an airport, but to Stanford University Medical Center instead. Sensing the urgency of the moment, the driver immediately retrieved the part and made his way to the hospital.

“Arriving two hours earlier than expected, I called my point of contact, who was still over an hour away. After some coordination with the engineer and hospital staff, I handed over the critical part for the medevac helicopter stranded on the hospital roof to a nurse instead — helping get the lifesaving equipment back in the air ahead of schedule,” said Bryan Sperry, 61, the driver.

Airspace says software also allowed them to protect workers by rapidly transitioning their team to fully remote operations across the United States. 

“The key was doing so with zero disruption to our round-the-clock operations and with full capabilities still in place,” said Ryan Rusnak, Airspace co-founder and chief technology officer. “After some planning, it took the team less than 36 hours to make a complete transition. They’re now remotely continuing to provide the seamless, end-to-end experience our customers expect.”

The transition and dramatic decline in passenger flights has not been without its challenges, though. Fewer passenger flights means fewer routing options, often accompanied by delays that can be costly for customers. That is where the power of the AI platform can often make the biggest difference, Airspace says.

One of the key features of their AI software is an automated delay declaration, which allows the operations team to quickly pivot to the next optimal routing if an order experiences a flight delay — even in the middle of a trip. For example, on one day in March this year, amid more than 100 flight cancellations at the Las Vegas airport, Airspace’s technology allowed the company to reduce disruption to critical deliveries to less than 38-minute average delays, while over 60% of orders there experienced no delays at all.

The rapidly changing dynamics as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have created enormous challenges across industries and supply chains, but the power of AI to keep industry and lifesaving goods and services moving in a crisis has shown a positive path toward maintaining affordability, speed, reliability and transparency in urgent logistics.