Opportunities, significance, and momentum were key words throughout the official IATA press conference featuring IATA Director General, Willie Walsh, Katherine Kaczynska, IATA Communications, Brendan Sullivan, IATA Global Head of Cargo, and Ezgi Gulbas, IATA Senior Economist. The press conference followed the official opening of this year’s World Cargo Symposium, held 12-14OCT21 in Dublin, Ireland.
The opening words were predictably the delight at finally being able to meet in person again – a palpably shared sentiment throughout the first day of the three-day event in Dublin, Ireland. Originally planned to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in March 2020, the pandemic not only postponed the event, but less than 2 months prior to it taking place this year, restrictions in Turkey led to it being shifted to a different location altogether. Despite the upheaval and difficulties, 800 people registered for the conference, which is partly held online, too.
Kudos to cargo
This was followed by the mantra that has often been repeated over the past 20 months: that cargo has and continues to be the star performer in the aviation industry, “excelling and generating critical cash for airlines,” Willie Walsh underlined, going on to provide impressive figures: “unlike passenger, which is still significantly behind, cargo is already 8% above 2019, and predicted to be 12-13% above in 2022.” He commended the industry for quickly refocusing its activities, for its flexibility, and innovation: “Without the airlines’ efforts and cargo focus, the ability to transport and distribute PPE and vaccines would have been significantly impaired. Great credit to the cargo industry.”
Don’t lose momentum
Brendan Sullivan picked up on this positive exposure and urged participants to make use of the “opportunity – we should not lose momentum, especially regarding the operational challenges ahead,” referring to the ongoing capacity and staff shortages, and infrastructure weaknesses. “We need to focus on modernization efforts,” in particular with regard to the three main themes of the conference: Sustainability, Digitalization, and Safety. The latter, especially, would benefit from much closer work with governments and regulators to tackle crucial safety issues such as Lithium Batteries – one of the core focus topics of the WCS, with an initial PR (CEIV Pharma certification) already being published later that day, yet one that has yet to find a solution to its main root hazards: substandard batteries and fraudulent, undeclared Lithium Battery shipments.
“How long will the cargo focus last?” was one of the questions posed. Willie Walsh believes that there has been a paradigm shift in how airlines view their cargo business, and that, going forward, business decisions will be based more in favor of cargo, when it comes to selecting to purchase or retire aircraft types. “Cargo will have more of an input in aircraft and network decisions,” he stated, suggesting, too, that some passenger airlines might think about going back to having dedicated freighters. Again, the message to “use momentum to highlight challenges” was underlined. Those challenges include the peak season against a backdrop of still limited capacity. Brendan Sullivan said: “The peak season is either coming or already on us and magnifying the issues we have. These need focus” over the next 12-18 months, he forecasts for the restricted capacity situation. “In the early period of the pandemic, we solved these challenges with increased communication and more supply chain collaboration, not manual, 1-2-1 relationships. We need to do this with data transparency on what is expected to move so that shippers have better picture.”
Coordination is key
The panel was aligned on the fact that this pandemic would not be the last one, and Willie Walsh hoped that governments have learned significant lessons, since unharmonized measures cost time and money. “We had to explain the importance of certain measures. Some regulators were quicker than others. The uncoordinated way of government response caused many problems. ICAO is also pushing for greater coordination. One of the lessons learned from this pandemic, is that coordination is key. That lesson is getting home – maybe not as fast as we would like.” There is more coordination, though he expressed “I was very disappointed with the EU. There were 27 different approaches rather than one single approach,” being quick to not criticize the Commission, but the individual governments which all acted autonomously. “We need to push hard and quick if we see restrictions being reintroduced.”
Political solutions urgently required
Those governments also play a key role in the industry being able to achieve Net Zero by 2050. Willie Walsh underlined that “2 trillion USD gross cost is needed” to achieve Net Zero with all kinds of measures ranging from fleet rollover to sustainable fuels, and that “this is a significant amount for an industry that will have lost 200 billion USD in three years. Everyone needs to play their part,” he urged, though not all necessarily need financial investment, citing inefficiencies in Air Traffic Control as a cheap, low-hanging fruit. “Those inefficiencies lead to a 10% excess in CO2 emissions.” This needs a political solution in favor of the Single European Sky instead of 37 different ATCs in Europe with different systems not talking to each other. “Eliminate this! Fuel manufacturers have made billions in profit – they need to produce sustainable fuels. Shine the light on fuel producers to improve the refining process! An estimated 12% CO2 reduction through refining measures is possible.” Government policies should remove these inefficiencies. While road transport solutions are already subsidized today, a similar policy framework is still missing for air transport. “It can’t just be left to the airlines to reduce CO2!”
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