U-Freight, one of Hong Kong's leading freight forwarders with a worldwide business and annual turnover of US$100 million, has brought its Houston, Texas, freight centre on-line with its global computer information system. Known as Air Freight System Architecture (AFSA), the in-house designed $3.5 million system was set up to meet increasing demands by customers for a rapid means of tracking their freight while in transit. Using their existing computer hardware and software, the shippers as well as consignees and third parties can contact U-Freight or connect to AFSA through the company's interactive Internet home page. By accessing the system through the home page, http://www.ufreight.com , customers can directly link up with AFSA to track and trace their shipments, by part numbers, purchase order numbers or airway bill numbers. AFSA supports third-party data entry from road haulage companies, customs brokers and other freight forwarders. Any customer that for whatever reason does not want to subscribe to the system can still use it via the World Wide Web site. The Hong Kong headquarters itself has been on-line with AFSA since 1993, U-Freight Holdings director N.S. Cheong said. AFSA was also designed to enable all U-Freight stations to operate in their own language, while air freight documentation was processed in English, he said. The system was able to handle complete management and accounting information tasks (daily administration roles like sales and invoicing), booking, cargo consolidation, EDI, purchase order tracking, and details of customers' accounts, he said. Communication used to be difficult, with various U-Freight offices using different kinds of computer systems - IBM Series One in the US, Digital Equipment VAX in Hong Kong, IBM AS 400 in Singapore, and Data General in Manila. 'In 1990 we saw the need to streamline operations and come out with a unified system that will serve customers' needs locally and internationally. It took a year and a half to produce the system,' he said. Four more offices - in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Dalian - are to be integrated with AFSA. The new terminal being built in Shanghai, to be operational by January 1, will replace an existing one and its computer facilities will make it a hub for China operations. U-Freight is expanding facilities in Singapore, China and the US following 30 per cent growth in 1995. The key to the company's expansion lies on the mainland where U-Freight is in a joint venture with China Express International Air Cargo. The freight forwarding firm has a grade A licence, allowing it to issue an airway bill, collect freight charges, book airline space, and handle all imports/exports/customs clearance. While U-Freight's Hong Kong business was founded on express forwarding of electronics air freight, in China the company handles new products like toys and garments that customers use as samples to test overseas markets.