Estimated Time of Arrival: How to Approach ETA Calculations in Logistics

Waiting for a friend who is consistently late can be frustrating. It seems that some people struggle with time management but excel at coming up with creative excuses for their chronic lateness. Whether it’s blaming traffic, vehicle problems, alarm issues, or even alien encounters, you find yourself swallowing yet another excuse, wasting your time, and feeling annoyed, angry, or upset, depending on your personality.

In the business world, time is money. This is especially true in the logistics industry, where the coordination of multiple processes and people is crucial. The cost of delays is significant, and accurate planning is invaluable. To put it into perspective, let’s recall the incident in March 2021 when the Ever Given containership blocked the Suez Canal. Experts estimated that this disruption held up trade with a daily value of $9.6 billion!

In this article, we will delve into the meanings behind the acronyms ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival), ETD (Estimated Time of Departure), and ETC (Estimated Time of Completion). Additionally, we will explore strategies and tools that can help you eliminate the guesswork from your time estimations.


What are ETA, ETD, and ETC?

ETA, or estimated time of arrival, refers to the anticipated time when a vehicle or person is expected to reach their destination. This calculation is based on the planned duration of the route. In the context of logistics, ETA is commonly used to inform customers about the expected arrival time of a vehicle carrying their freight.

ETD can have two different meanings:

Estimated time of departure: This refers to the projected time when a transport departs from its starting point. It is typically used in reference to ocean or air cargo carriers leaving the port or airport of origin. Shippers who send goods internationally and work with consolidators find this estimate particularly important.

To avoid confusion, we can extend the meaning of ETD to ETDep, representing estimated time of departure, and ETDel, representing estimated time of delivery.

Estimated time of delivery: This signifies the final point in the supply chain when a package or shipment is expected to be handed over to the end customer. It is predominantly used in the context of last-mile delivery operations.

ETC, or estimated time of completion, is also referred to as “closing.” It denotes the anticipated time when specific activities or tasks are expected to be finished. ETC can pertain to service provision or the loading/unloading process in logistics settings.


ETA vs ETDel

You are correct that ETA and ETDel are distinct in their meanings, as arrival time does not always coincide with delivery time. In maritime shipping, ETA typically refers to the time when a vessel enters the port, while ETDel would represent the moment when the cargo is transferred to the warehouse or handed over to the consignee. Similarly, in the case of courier services, ETA would denote the time when the courier arrives at the destination, whereas ETDel would indicate the specific moment when packages are delivered to individual recipients, especially in scenarios involving multi-office business buildings. It’s important to differentiate between these terms to accurately communicate the various stages and timelines within the logistics process.


ETDel vs ETC

The key distinction lies in the field of application for these terms. ETDel specifically pertains to the actual transfer or delivery of shipments or goods, while ETC is commonly used in the service industry. For instance, let’s consider an equipment maintenance appointment scheduled for 10 am, with an estimated duration of 3 hours. In this case, the ETC, or estimated time of completion, would be 1 pm, indicating the anticipated time when the maintenance service is expected to be finished. This illustrates how ETDel and ETC serve different purposes in different contexts within logistics and service-related scenarios.


Why are ETA, ETD, and ETC important?

The primary objective of estimating the timing of supply chain operations is to ensure that all parties involved are well-informed about the expected arrival and departure times (ETA/ETDep). This information is crucial for ports, airports, carriers, truckers, air carriers, ship owners, and consignees to effectively plan their operations, reduce congestion, and make necessary adjustments in real-time.

Ports and airports rely on accurate ETA/ETDep estimates to efficiently manage their resources and minimize congestion. Real-time monitoring of changes in ETA/ETDep allows for timely redirection of vessels or airplanes in case of delays, ensuring smoother operations.

Carriers require precise time estimations to support their scheduling processes. Truckers need to control drivers’ hours of service and arrange future loads, while air carriers must plan fuel usage. Ship owners aim to secure chartering contracts well in advance. Having real-time visibility enables dispatchers to immediately reschedule in case of delays or disruptions, minimizing the impact on operations.

Inaccurate ETA calculations can lead to substantial fines for carriers if they miscalculate and experience delays. Additionally, customers expect real-time tracking of their shipments and want to stay informed about the delivery stage, which directly impacts their satisfaction.

Complementary service providers, such as dockers, cranes, forklifts, tugs, and other personnel and equipment involved in the loading/unloading process, rely on carriers’ ETA estimates to schedule their activities. These providers often operate on a rental basis and need accurate timing information to efficiently plan their operations.

Consignees heavily rely on accurate planning for efficient inventory management. Knowing the exact delivery time allows businesses to plan their manufacturing, warehousing, yard, and sales activities effectively. Accurate estimations help avoid overstocking, stockouts, staff idling, and yard congestion, leading to optimized operations.

Furthermore, consignees are often responsible for expenses such as crane rentals. Delays can result in additional costs for rental period extensions, detention charges, or the need to arrange alternate times. The same applies to port inspections, demurrage, and other associated expenses. In the case of perishable goods, late deliveries can result in significant losses.

Given the importance of these estimations, it is crucial to make them as accurate as possible. This is especially true for ETA calculations, which are highly susceptible to changes influenced by external factors.


How to calculate estimated time of arrival?

In logistics, the duration of shipping is influenced by various factors that need to be considered when estimating arrival times. These factors include:

Route distance between the origin and destination: The length of the route affects the overall travel time.

Vehicle/vessel average speed: The average speed at which the vehicle or vessel travels along the route impacts the time it takes to reach the destination.

Number and duration of intermediate stops: If there are intermediate stops along the route, the time spent at each stop needs to be accounted for in the estimation.

Weather conditions: Adverse weather conditions such as storms, heavy rain, or snow can significantly impact travel time and cause delays.

Time needed for refueling: If the mode of transportation requires refueling, the time taken for refueling should be factored into the estimation.

Traffic: Congestion on roads or at ports can lead to delays and affect the overall shipping duration.

Available hours of service and mandatory rest periods for truck drivers: Truck drivers have limitations on the number of hours they can drive without rest. Compliance with these regulations affects the estimated arrival time.

Emergency situations: Unforeseen events such as accidents, road closures, or natural disasters can disrupt the shipping process and lead to delays.

While a basic estimation of arrival time can be calculated manually using the formula “time equals distance divided by speed,” such simple predictions are often far from reality due to the complexities of the logistics process.

As customer expectations for real-time tracking and accurate information have increased, shippers and carriers are leveraging technology to improve their services and provide more precise information. Advanced tracking systems and data analytics enable real-time shipment tracking, data-based forecasting, and more accurate time estimates. These technological options help in mitigating uncertainties and providing customers with accurate and up-to-date information about their shipments.


ETA calculation as part of tracking and routing tools

In today’s logistics industry, navigation systems have become ubiquitous. Just as individuals use navigation apps like Waze or Google Maps for driving, carriers rely on specialized software to plan their routes. This software can be integrated into fleet management systems or used as standalone routing tools. Air and ocean carriers also utilize satellite navigation systems for positioning and timing purposes, leveraging platforms such as Air Navigation Pro, StormGeo s-Routing, AdrenaShip, and others.

These advanced platforms enable more precise calculations by incorporating additional factors that can fluctuate, such as weather conditions, traffic, delays, and port congestion. Routes can be tracked in real-time and adjusted as needed, ensuring that estimated times of arrival (ETAs) are provided automatically and continuously updated.

For eCommerce businesses that work with shipping carriers offering tracking functionality, ETAs are typically provided as a standard feature. There are detailed articles available on integrating shipment tracking from various providers, including API aggregators, parcel couriers, cargo carriers, and freight forwarders.

While tracking and routing tools often include ETA functionality, you may require a more comprehensive solution that offers additional features or greater precision. Your existing navigation system may not be as accurate or as user-friendly as desired, or you may be seeking broader functionality. In such cases, specialized solutions that focus on calculating ETAs for trips can be beneficial. These platforms gather real-time external data from various sources to provide the most precise estimates. They can be used as standalone tools or integrated into existing systems through APIs (application programming interfaces), although setting up the connectivity would require the involvement of a developer.

In the following sections, we will explore ETA calculation solutions for land and sea carriers, as these modes of transportation are particularly susceptible to changes influenced by external factors.


Standalone ETA calculators in land transportation

Delays are nearly unavoidable in the trucking, delivery, or service industries. Various factors such as adverse weather conditions, road closures, flat tires, or delays at loading/unloading stops can disrupt schedules and result in postponed arrivals.

For dispatchers responsible for coordinating multiple drivers and numerous stops each day, having a powerful tool with automatic notifications is essential. Such a tool can significantly simplify the coordination process, reducing the need for endless phone calls and ensuring customer satisfaction. Fortunately, there are several solutions available to assist in this regard.


PTV Drive&Arrive: an industry leader with multiple sharing options

One prominent industry leader in ETA calculations is the PTV Drive&Arrive ETA calculator. This tool offers RESTful JSON APIs, allowing users to request ETA calculations and receive results directly within their internal systems.

To utilize the PTV Drive&Arrive platform effectively, the process typically involves creating a trip within your routing tool and transferring the trip details to the ETA calculator. The PTV Drive&Arrive platform collects various additional data to accurately determine route duration and ETA, including:

Telematics information obtained from vehicles, driver apps, or telematics aggregators.

Map data that encompasses traffic conditions, patterns, predictions, toll data, and more.

Truck-specific restrictions such as low bridges, tunnels, weight limits, U-turns, and other relevant factors.

Once the ETA calculations are obtained, there are several ways to share the results based on your specific operational model:

If you collaborate with warehouses, you can provide them with access to a web-based arrival board, enabling real-time tracking of multiple incoming trucks and visualizing all deliveries.

Another option is integrating the ETA calculation and notification functionality into your existing fleet management system, warehouse management software, order management tool, or any other platform you use to operate your business. This integration allows you to track ETAs seamlessly within your interface.

Each trip generated through the PTV Drive&Arrive platform is assigned a unique ID number, which can be shared with all relevant stakeholders. They can track the progress of the trip using the free web-based service PTV Trip Viewer or subscribe to SMS or email notifications for updates.

These options provide flexibility in sharing and tracking ETA calculation results, allowing you to streamline your operations and effectively manage delays and customer expectations.


Agheera: based on the big telematics consolidator

Agheera Arrival Monitoring is a leading solution that utilizes a recognized telematics aggregator. Their platform, Track.Agheera, gathers data from various telematics devices manufactured by different companies to provide real-time ETA information.

With the Agheera monitoring tool, users have access to a convenient arrival board that offers an overview of incoming trucks. This real-time visibility enables warehouse and yard operators to optimize their scheduling and ramp processes effectively.

Furthermore, the Agheera platform allows users to set up customized notifications to keep their staff and/or customers informed about any ETA deviations or changes.

While Agheera does not provide open API documentation or pricing plans publicly, you can contact them directly to learn more about the available integration options and explore how their solution can be integrated into your existing systems.

By leveraging Agheera Arrival Monitoring, you can benefit from real-time ETA information, optimize your operational processes, and keep all relevant stakeholders informed about any changes in arrival times.


MapTrip: GPS truck-focused tool with rich API suite

MapTrip is a specialized GPS tracking solution designed specifically for trucking. It offers comprehensive routing and ETA calculations, taking into account various truck-specific restrictions such as low tunnels, sharp U-turns, and narrow roads. Additionally, MapTrip allows users to input truck dimensions, select load types (overdimensional, hazardous, etc.), and specify preferences like avoiding toll roads.

To obtain ETA calculation results and receive notifications, users can utilize the MapTrip app interface or integrate its functionality into their existing system. MapTrip offers a suite of APIs that enable customization of route planning, as well as a Navigation SDK that allows users to create their own apps with MapTrip’s features.

For developers, MapTrip provides a wealth of learning materials, including YouTube videos, detailed tutorials, and code examples available on GitHub. These resources aim to support developers in effectively utilizing MapTrip’s capabilities and integrating them into their own applications.

By leveraging MapTrip’s professional GPS tracking solution, trucking companies can benefit from accurate routing and ETA calculations that consider truck-specific restrictions, enhancing efficiency and ensuring optimal route planning.


Cargoclix: convenient integration with SLOT time window management tool

he ETA Management module of Cargoclix integrates smoothly with its SLOT tool, which is commonly used for warehouse and yard operations management. If you are already using the SLOT tool, it would be the best choice for you.

The ETA calculations take into account various factors such as the current position of the vehicle, distance to the destination, traffic conditions, and the type of truck being used. The estimated arrival times are directly displayed within the SLOT time management solution. This feature enables schedulers and time operators to make adjustments to their planning, thereby minimizing idle time and yard congestion.

While the ETA module can also be used as a standalone application, connecting it to other platforms may require contacting the Cargoclix team for further information and guidance.


Standalone ETA calculators in maritime shipping

As much as roads are changing, the ocean is also undergoing significant transformations. Consequently, there is an equal demand for real-time tracking in maritime operations. Fortunately, there are software tools available that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to analyze historical and real-time maritime data, enabling accurate predictions of Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA). These advanced tools utilize data-driven algorithms to process the information and provide reliable ETA estimates for maritime vessels.


Sinay ETAC: consolidated dashboards and a family of related tools

The Sinay ETAC Module utilizes data from a ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) and combines it with ocean and port data to track vessel positions worldwide. By connecting to a global ship database, users can monitor individual vessels or their entire fleet.

To track vessels using the web interface, users need to input the ship’s MMSI or IMO number, select the departure port and time, and add the arrival position. This information grants access to a dashboard displaying vessel and route details, a map, statistics, the port of arrival, and a predicted ETA. Sinay also provides a trust index indicating the likelihood of ETA changes.

The module offers the option to create a consolidated ETA dashboard for multiple ships, which is particularly beneficial for ports to monitor incoming vessels and their predicted ETAs.

Sinay also provides API integration to obtain ETA information for integration into users’ systems. However, specific details regarding this integration need to be obtained by directly contacting Sinay since they do not offer open documentation.

In addition to the ETAC Module, Sinay offers a range of tools to support maritime operations, including route planning and optimization, fleet statistics, consumption prediction, and more. If you are already utilizing their software or require a comprehensive platform, Sinay can be a suitable choice.


FleetMon: map views and a variety of APIs

FleetMon Explorer is an additional browser-based provider of maritime data that offers real-time tracking of global ocean traffic and operations. It boasts an extensive vessel database for comprehensive monitoring.

Users have the option to track ships on a map or select specific vessels from a list. FleetMon’s user-friendly interface efficiently presents all relevant vessel and trip information, including Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA).

In addition to the browser interface, FleetMon allows connectivity through an API, enabling users to directly request trip information from their system and obtain ETA calculations. FleetMon offers a range of JSON APIs for various purposes. Once connected, users can receive the required data at custom intervals or on a one-time basis, as needed. For more information, it is recommended to consult the detailed FleetMon API documentation.

FleetMon also provides a mobile app, enabling users to access vessel information and track their fleet conveniently from their devices.


Custom ETA calculators

Every business has its unique requirements and workflows, and while there is a wide range of diverse tools available on the market, they may not always seamlessly fit or fully meet your needs.

ETA calculation is a complex task that involves considering multidimensional data from various sources. Off-the-shelf solutions often struggle to provide the desired level of accuracy. In such cases, it is worth considering the development of a custom solution tailored specifically to your business requirements.

Extensive research has been conducted to identify the best approaches for calculating arrival times, resulting in three main methods and a hybrid group that combines elements from multiple approaches.

The speed/time approach calculates ETA using only two parameters: average travel time and average speed, based on historical trip information. It is widely used due to its ease of implementation and quick computation, but its accuracy heavily relies on stable traffic conditions, which are often rare, resulting in lower accuracy compared to the other methods.

The statistical-based approach applies statistical models to predict ETA by considering a larger number of factors, such as traffic congestion and dwell time, based on historical estimations and other data. These models can establish trends by assuming that what happened before will occur again, but they still lack precision since real-time data is not utilized.

The machine learning (ML) based approach is more time-consuming and requires a substantial amount of data for training models. However, recent studies indicate that this method holds promise in providing the most accurate predictions. ML algorithms process large amounts of diverse data, including real-time information, to identify patterns and dependencies that may not be obvious to humans. We recommend exploring our posts on machine learning and data engineering for a general understanding of how it works, the roles involved, and the potential results you can achieve.

Data sources for ETA calculations

To develop a machine learning-based Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) calculator for trucking, it is crucial to gather relevant data that affects the accuracy of the calculations. Here are the key data inputs required:

Route Information: This includes details about the origin and destination of the truck, as well as any intermediate stops, delivery time windows, preferred routes, etc.

Geolocation Information: Real-time data about traffic conditions, accidents, speed cameras, and other factors that can affect travel time. Integration with global data providers like TomTom, Here, or OSM can provide access to this information through APIs, which can be used for routing and tracking purposes.

Telematics Information: Data from telematics devices installed in the fleet’s vehicles, specialized driver apps, or telematics aggregators such as Agheera or Timocom. This data includes the vehicle’s speed, geoposition, and other relevant metrics.

Weather Information: Historical, current, and forecasted weather data is crucial for accurate ETA calculations. Weather APIs like OpenWeather or can provide access to this information. Some map data providers also offer weather APIs that can be integrated into the system.

Additional Restrictions and Factors: Considerations like vehicle/cargo type and dimensions, drivers’ available hours, driving style, and other factors that may impact the estimated time of arrival.

For maritime shipping, the data inputs for the ETA calculator will differ:

Route Information: Similar to trucking, the route information for maritime shipping is essential to calculate the ETA accurately.

Marine Weather Information: Data about winds, waves, tides, ice coverage, and other relevant marine weather conditions. APIs from providers like or WorldWeatherOnline can be used to access this data.

AIS Information: Automatic Identification System (AIS) data provides information about vessel positions, speed, and course. Connecting to aggregators like AISHub, Spire, or MarineTraffic is recommended for comprehensive ocean traffic data. These platforms also offer valuable port data.

Additional Restrictions: Similar to trucking, any additional restrictions related to vessel and cargo type need to be considered for accurate ETA calculations.

By integrating and processing these data inputs using machine learning algorithms, an ETA calculator for trucking or maritime shipping can provide more accurate predictions for the estimated time of arrival.


Effective ML methods to predict ETA

ETA calculation is a regression problem in machine learning, where the goal is to predict a quantity rather than a class label. Among various machine learning techniques for regression tasks, recent research from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology titled “Calculation of estimated time of arrival using artificial intelligence” suggests that ensemble methods, particularly random forest and stacked generalization, provide the most accurate predictions for arrival time.

Random forest is an ensemble algorithm that combines multiple decision trees to obtain accurate results. It can be likened to seeking advice from different sources when deciding which car to buy and selecting the option that receives the most recommendations. Random forest operates on a similar principle by aggregating the predictions of multiple decision trees.

Stacked generalization, or stacking, is another ensemble learning technique that uses predictions from multiple models as inputs for a new model. This final model blends or combines the different forecasts to achieve enhanced accuracy. It can be compared to checking weather forecasts from various sources, including websites, weather stations, and even consulting folk superstitions, and then making predictions based on the collective knowledge from these diverse sources.

Another study conducted by the German Technical University titled “Grand Challenge: Real-time Destination and ETA Prediction for Maritime Traffic” suggests the use of feedforward neural networks (FNN) for ETA calculation in maritime shipping. FNN is the simplest type of neural network, which takes inputs such as coordinates, course, speed, and other relevant parameters for ETA tasks. These inputs are processed through hidden layers, and the prediction is obtained from the output layer. The study found that an FNN with an input layer consisting of 200 neurons and a single hidden layer of the same size yielded the best results.

Deep learning and neural networks offer further exploration in this field. For more detailed information on these topics, you can refer to dedicated articles on deep learning and neural networks.


Visualization and data sharing

Once you obtain the time estimates for ETA calculations, it is important to visualize them within your existing system or through an arrival board or portal, depending on your specific requirements. This visualization enables stakeholders to easily access and interpret the ETA information. Additionally, notifications need to be set up to inform different stakeholders about the ETA updates. These notifications can be shared through various communication channels such as email, SMS, a link to a portal, or even through API connections to their systems. The frequency of these notifications can also be customized based on specific needs, whether it’s a one-time notification, hourly updates, daily summaries, or only when the ETA changes.

When developing your ETA solution, you have the option to leverage your existing software infrastructure if applicable. Alternatively, if you are starting from scratch or require additional location technologies, partnering with a location technologies provider can be beneficial. Providers like Here Workspace offer an environment that can support the development and integration of your ETA solution, providing access to relevant tools, data, and resources to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of your system.


So, buy or build?

The decision of whether to purchase or create software is ultimately up to you. It involves considering the resources at your disposal, such as software, hardware, and skilled staff. Time is also a crucial factor to consider, as custom development typically takes a significant amount of time.

Off-the-shelf solutions often provide comprehensive features and sufficient flexibility to meet your requirements, although some customization and integration may still be necessary to align with your workflow.

If you choose to develop custom software, you have the advantage of fine-tuning its functionality to address your specific business needs. However, this option may not be suitable if you have limited budget or time constraints.



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