In LogisticsExecutiveTV’s recent vodcast, Episode 83: “Challenging the Air Cargo Industry Mid-2022”, moderator Kim Winter navigated guest speaker, Director General at The International Air Cargo Association TIACA, Glyn Hughes through his four-decades of aviation experience, drawing out more than just a glimpse of what makes “the man, the myth, the legend”, and discussing the industry’s evolution and forecast.
In a lively half-hour chat, Kim Winter and Glyn Hughes set out to deliberate over changes in the air cargo industry over the years, the recent challenges and how they were or should be being
tackled, and the ongoing question of attracting fresh talent. In setting the scene, Kim Winter cast his rod out further than most, when requesting his guest’s biography. Highlighting Hughes’
previous IATA and now TIACA posts, he follows this with a request that Glyn talk about his upbringing, since “in your case, I’m sure it’s very interesting because you’ve ended up being a very
interesting character, and very well-known around the world and in the industry: the man, the myth, the legend!”
Born at the end of a runway
“I was actually born in Crawley, England, which is basically at the end of the runway of Gatwick Airport,” Glyn reveals, saying that – due to his journalist father – the family soon moved to Florida/USA for seven years, before returning to Crawley/UK again. The disruption of different schooling systems resulted in “school was not for me”, and Glyn leaving formal education after his O’Levels at age 16. “Living at the end of the runway, growing up always seeing and hearing airplanes, it was a natural progression for me to go and work at the airport.”
An AWB love affair
After a few temporary stints with forwarders, he “ended up working for British Caledonian” in his first airline job. “It was a very junior role, but air cargo. That was in 1983, so nearly 40 years ago,” he tells, “and, honestly, the passion for this industry started, reading AWBs. That was my first job – opening up envelopes and pulling out blocks of AWBs”.
It was the fascination of what was being transported and “making that connectivity between the stuff that goes on the planes and the impact that it has on lives, and it’s that same aspect that drives me today, nearly four decades later, which is the impact this industry has on global society.”
This industry is about a community
“In some ways, Glyn, there’s been huge, huge change, but in many ways a lot of things have stayed the same,” Kim Winter states about the industry, recalling his own start in 1989, at a time when laptops were still years in the distance and processes were far more manual. “When I joined,” Glyn agrees, “it was about people, community, and the impact on society. Those are still some of the key drivers today. This industry MUST work collectively as a community, because it’s so complex, and the minute we start fragmenting, and not communicating, and not talking, not sharing a common understanding, I think we’re doomed.” The impact on society and the economy or global health are clearly a forte of air cargo.
He goes on to point out a definite area of improvement over the years: the tools and technology being used in the industry, which have positively impacted customer service, quality, and efficient supply chain flows – an important development particularly in light of commodities becoming more sensitive and time-effective, requiring greater transparency and flexibility. “We have embraced technology. I think there is a lot more to do, but I would hate to think this industry loses that centralized focus on people, collaboration, and impact.”
This industry and world have never been normal
Discussing the pandemic which highlighted the importance, resilience, and flexibility of the air cargo industry in keeping supply chains running and supporting the medical industry, Glyn says: “As we now move to this, I don’t want to call it post-covid yet because covid is still with us […], the world is trying to cope with that whilst getting back to some semblance of, and I don’t like to use the word ‘normal’, because this industry and this world has never been normal. It’s always been subject to change and difference but going forward and currently there are a huge number of challenges.”
Whilst in JAN22, capacities were still very stretched, rates sky high, and the shipping industry was struggling with overdemand, the air cargo and maritime industries were, however, earning and the global economy was booming. With the onset of Putin’s war, a domino effect has been triggered: exploding energy, fuel, and production costs, air space closures, record high inflation, “the list is ad infinitum!”, he says. All these factors are resulting in an economic downturn.
Staff shortages at airports and airlines
The chaos at many airports recently, due to lack of passenger ground staff, ramp staff, security staff, etc., have negatively affected people’s will to travel by air, given the uncertainty of flights actually taking place, so this has also negatively impacted cargo: “that capacity that the cargo industry was relying on, particularly transatlantic, on big, widebody passenger aircraft”, is not there. Further impacts include Asia’s ongoing battle with “operations not as they were” pre-pandemic, given the zero tolerance regulations still leading to sporadic and severe lockdowns. “We’ve had a lot of stalling,” he illustrates, as operations continuously stop and start. All this in the face of e-commerce boom and governments needing to be educated in what kind of support air cargo requires.
The industry will continue to struggle with lack of staff
Thanks to the way many airlines handled the start of the pandemic, where large numbers of staff were unceremoniously dumped, many ex-aviation staff no longer have the desire to return to the industry and are therefore not available. Recruiting new staff takes time, given the various certifications required, and, when it comes to new talent, job expectations are changing. Glyn outlines: “The next generation of workforce has spent the last couple of years working, studying and socializing from home”, so physical shift work in all weathers is not attractive, Glyn concludes, also mentioning the RFS industry where drivers often spend around 180 days away from home. “A period of structural evolution is required,” he says, detailing highlighting the industry’s values and impact, and identifying opportunities for more attractive job environments through technological developments as necessary actions.
Will there be a shortage of pallets thanks to the war?
Out of the discussion regarding maritime companies venturing into air cargo activities, Glyn highlights an alarming connection. The maritime sector suffered a shortage of containers. Air cargo may be heading in a similar direction, he warns: a ULD Care study has been looking into pallet production developments. One of the three major PMC producers, for example, is in Russia, thus currently not available. This, coupled with the fact that aluminum has now doubled in price, means that current, existing shortages of pallets due to missing return frequencies, will soon be exacerbated by a rise in production costs, and less production possibilities.
More turbulence ahead, therefore.
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.