For many, it was the air cargo industry’s first in-person event since 2019, yet not without its trials and tribulations. IATA’s World Cargo Symposium (WCS), held in Dublin, Ireland, gained a vibrant Irish spirit with much bonhomie, enthusiasm, and a great deal of verbal interchange. CFG shares its impressions.
The famous “luck of the Irish” is catching! From the moment delegates walked through the glass doors of Dublin’s Convention Centre, they were warmly welcomed by a large conference team effortlessly managing to convey a smile through their masks as they efficiently advised and ensured that Covid-19 regulations were always adhered to and were immediately on hand to support. Rarely have conference staff made such a positive impression. This was felt by all and addressed by Celine Hourcade in the closing remarks: “I have been amazed by the team at convention centre here in DUB. The level of service and kindness every single one has shown at the event is indicative of its corporate culture. That doesn’t happen like magic. Start with people. Include people in the process and they will do excellent work!” A best-demonstrated practise of one of the conference’s key topics.
Cargo is a people-business
Cargo always has been, is, and will always continue to be a people business. 500 people from 36 countries turned up to the WCS, another 170 attended online, and the event app had 685 active users, despite it not being the most convenient or intuitive one.
As an improvement suggestion, the conference screens in the foyers should have been used to give an overview of the complete agenda, and an agenda printout would have been helpful in the welcome bag – small details.
A larger detail that frustrated a number of the exhibiting companies, was the fact that the Exhibition Hall was on a different floor to the networking and catering hall. This meant that the exhibition booths saw much less traffic than expected. With the last-minute location change from Istanbul, Turkey, to Dublin, Ireland, a few companies pulled their booths because of fears of reduced delegate attendance or visa problems for staff from certain regions. Indeed, there was more European and less South American/Middle East/APAC representation. Something that will be rebalanced in 2022, when the next WCS takes place in Hong Kong: “We have no exact date yet because of the current situation but will be in contact soon!” Brendan Sullivan, IATA’s Global Head of Cargo, promised.
The fact that the Dublin event could still take place despite the restrictions and changes was, however, “a positive sign that the industry is on the road to recovery,” and, as an independent event manager told CFG, “conferences need the companies to invest and believe in them, so that they can start happening again.”
Green promise and action
Given that Sustainability was one of the three main conference streams, IATA led by example. Brendan Sullivan announced, “IATA will donate to offset carbon usage of this conference, and 159 trees will be planted.” The industry’s commitment to Net Zero by 2050 dominated discussions, as did SAF. ACL Airshop CEO, Steve Townes’ quote was reiterated during the event: “It is not Covid, but Environmental Impact that is the real threat to aviation”, and TIACA’s Director General, Glyn Hughes underlined that “Sustainability is going to be the next big driver for our industry,” joined by a number of presenters who all agreed that the topic has to become embedded in each company’s DNA, since it needs to be lived both individually as well as across all processes – and it is intertwined with the second main conference stream, Safety. The emphasis, again, was that Sustainability is far more than simply environmental impact: it covers Planet, Prosperity, and People.
TikTok and fair pay
The need to place much greater emphasis on People was driven home, and this is the first conference where Mental Health was proactively discussed on stage, focusing on the extreme pressures the pandemic exerted on employees working from home, the difficult conditions on the frontline, uncertainty, unprecedented strain, etc. Many are often unaware of the importance of their contribution in the overall picture. The “unsung heroes” who kept and keep supply chains running in all kinds of weather and working conditions, need much greater attention and appreciation. That is something every leader can do right away, Vice President Global Operations - Cargo at Swissport, Hendrik Leyssens said, “We don’t need to wait for an initiative to start with ourselves. Especially with regard to frontline staff, we need to be more appreciative and better as an industry. There are working homeless around airports – people with a job but without a home! We should be ashamed of ourselves!” Fair pay, diversity, mental support, mindset, company culture, and the need to be a leader instead of a manager, were recurring messages. “The industry deserves great credit”, Willy Walsh repeated, in the face of the pandemic, and it also needs to ensure it attracts the next, or – as it was often referred to - the “TikTok” generation. For this, it needs to prove its contribution to sustainability, society, and digital efficiency.
Asset hiding in plain sight
LATAM Cargo’s CEO, Andres Bianchi summarised cargo’s rise to fame over the past 18 months: “It’s cargo’s time! An asset that has been hiding in plain sight. We have finally shown how important we are, and leveraging this momentum is very important.” Aer Lingus CEO, Lynne Embleton was clearly one of the cargo converts during the pandemic: “I’ve seen the light! What a phenomenal role cargo plays for society!” That role is so much more than the impressive 3.5 billion vaccines that have been airlifted to date, and the core message throughout the conference, was that this spotlight is a window of opportunity that has to be grabbed to drive through the priorities and change requiring governments and authorities to agree and support. Yet, also to reduce the focus to the meaningful topics – starting with the three streams: Safety/Sustainability/Digitalization, and to really get these done. Of the latter, Atlas Air’s Executive Vice President, Michael T. Steen, stated: “The technology is there. Now we just have to use it.” PayCargo’s CCO, Lionel van der Walt, urged the industry to “Take the message to the (wo)man on the street!” Air cargo, which delivers more than 20-fold to the economy than what tourism brings through aviation, does not get the recognition it deserves. The general public are largely unaware of the vital backbone the industry represents in their daily life, and they are unaware of the effort that has been and is being put into making it more sustainable going forward.
There were many initiatives mentioned and launched – notably the Women in Aviation initiative, for example, as well as the Cargo Advisory Council’s hybrid first industry meeting. Particularly encouraging, too, was IATA, FIATA, and TIACA taking a joint stage and committing to being stronger together, defining and aligning activities, and determined to present results and achievements on the next joint stage. Collaboration has grown during the pandemic, and as with so many areas, success depends on shared responsibilities, ideas, and effort.
CFG, too, enjoyed the collaboration over the three days, thanks IATA for the event, and all those delegates taking the time to discuss with CFG for their insights, ambience, and time. Look forward to seeing you again at the next event!
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.