More than 1360 air cargo logistics professionals and related service providers descended on London’s ExCel Center in the Docklands in the East of the English city, to attend IATA’s 15th World Cargo Symposium on 27-29SEP22. What was it like?
In fact, numbering 1365 participants from 73 countries, the London event was an IATA WCS record, narrowly beating the last pre-Covid WCS in Singapore in 2019, and doubling the result of last year’s Dublin, Ireland, WCS. (CFG reported: https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/10/16/impressions-of-iata-s-wcs-12-14oct21/ ). Spread over three floors, the agenda was split into three core streams: Digital, Sustainability, and Safety & Security, alongside a large exhibition area on the ground floor. Unfortunately, the vast hall resembled the inside of a comedown warehouse with black flooring and coffee areas that looked as though they were permanently closed, due to their cloth coverings. Nevertheless, the food area was strategically placed at the back of the hall, and therefore the many stands saw a great deal of traffic pass through – something that had been lacking completely at the Dublin event. Much movement allowed for a great deal of networking, which was the main reason for participation for most attendees. Ticket prices, however, were seen as too expensive.
Brendan Sullivan opened to the plenary with a confirmation of cargo’s 204 billion USD revenue contribution over the past year, stating that the industry was “financially stronger, more efficient, and better digitalized,” warning of the many challenges ahead, but also pointing to the positive factors: “e-commerce continues to grow, Covid restrictions are easing, the strong passenger rebound means more belly capacity available, and high-value pharma products appear resistant to crisis.” Cargo is “used to challenges”, but the WCS should address what needs to be done to secure the industry’s future.
Four priorities were listed: Net Zero by 2050, Continuing to Modernize Processes, Safe Carriage of Lithium Batteries, and Attracting New Talents.
Logistics is the key to happiness!
“Logistics is the key to happiness and is an absolutely essential ingredient in any kind of economic development,” was IATA Chief Economist, Marie Owens Thomsen’s take on the current state of the economy. “Our industry will lose around 9.7 billion USD this year – but this needs celebrating because look at where we came from! Not many industries can pull off what the pandemic caused,” she continued, pointing to a highly resilient cargo industry in the face of disruption. However, she also named the energy transition as a huge challenge and emphasized: “We need to be critical about what we think that we know. We need to reset our mindset,” in order to not only be resilient as an industry, but also robust. “We need to look at ourselves in the value chain and broader transport sector,” referencing a McKinsey report due to come in OCT22, which will again show that “Airlines are the weakest link in the value chain,” when it comes to robustness.
Where’s the momentum?
“These have been the most exciting last 2 -3 years that we have ever had. Despite it being difficult for the world and the economy, for us it has never been better,” were IBS’ Ashok Rajan’s words in his Digital stream presentation. Certainly, digitalization has seen and triggered the most movement – this was very apparent at the WCS, which featured old as well as very new providers and solutions. “The IATA survey showed that air cargo is not attractive, but digital transformation is – everyone loved this – and there is a lot of this in air cargo – so we need to change our message [to attract new talent]!”, Brendan Sullivan stated.
While there was momentum in digital, it was often seen to be missing in other areas. When asked how they felt about the various IATA initiatives currently underway in working groups, the general answer was that things were happening too slowly, and there was discontentment about participating in working groups and then having “buy back” the solutions that had been established. A clear need for change in the IATA approach – though the other side of the coin was the responsibility being on the airline side – too many cooks and very little broth. The solution? Someone, somewhere needs to take responsibility and enforce change/solution adoptions. Perhaps the slogan is not so much “maintain momentum,” but should be “gain momentum.”
FIATA, TIACA, IATA – toleration or togetherness?
Following on from last year’s kick-off, IATA, FIATA, and TIACA again took to the stage on the final day for a joint panel. In the OCT21 WCS, they had committed to being stronger together, defining and aligning activities, determined to present results and achievements on the next joint stage. Disappointingly, there was not much to show for what had happened in the interim and panel did not give off a very streamlined, collaborative vibe. Celine Hourcade, moderating the panel consisting of Stéphane Graber, FIATA, Steven Polmans, TIACA, and Brendan Sullivan, IATA, began by asking if they were aligned or duplicating efforts: “Do you have the same priorities?” FIATA and IATA both held up green cards to signify Yes, whereas TIACA’s red card meant No. IATA’s take was, “we are largely aligned at top level, with a combination of overlap. Because of whom we represent, we have other things […]” pointing to a “long history of alignment” but also underlining we “simply need to work together”, while FIATA’s message that “no one reads 300-page manuals. We need to speak same language as those people expected to do something, [and they – the freight forwarders] must be included very early in design process. Inclusion is a very important aspect of collaboration,” seemed to point to frustration, despite its priorities matching IATA’s: Sustainability, Digitalization, Safety&Security, and New Talents. “We need to be creative, innovative, change how we work and find new solutions. [We] won’t find this if we rely on same way to interact how we work,” he continued, saying he would like to see more freight forwarders attending the WCS, too. TIACA light-heartedly pointed out that collaboration with IATA is “much easier because of the new head of cargo,” admitted that TIACA had, in the past, duplicated what other associations were doing, but also set TIACA apart in saying “We are better placed than other organizations to do certain things. We support ongoing initiatives [citing the BlueSky program]”, and pointed to its diverse organizational set-up: “different members, different goals”.
How do you translate BlaBla?
Celine Hourcade called out the gentlemen’s need for collaboration point, stating “you have talked about this for years,” and bluntly asked what the audience was waiting for: “How do you translate BlaBla into Action?” This was met with IATA’s reference to a recent IATA skill survey and “we should take this further and take tangible action jointly”.
TIACA’s take was “talk and understand – perhaps the result is us deciding NOT to do something, such as another survey”, admitting that there was much to do and though “we should not duplicate what does not make sense, sometimes duplication is stronger. We all have the same goal: to make a better and more sustainable industry.”
FIATA seemed to step back from active collaboration: “we all have limited resources” and should focus on “efficiency in where there are synergies” though “FIATA may not take lead in air cargo, as we have similar issues in other modes, but we can definitely support to reach objectives.”
“I hope we will hear more about progress in other events,” Celine Hourcade closed the panel, at the same time listing the many other associations dealing with various aspects of the air cargo industry. Is it possible to move forward in the face of so much fragmentation – and will we see tangible results in the next WCS?
Türkiye'ye hoş geldiniz!
“If the earth were a single state. Istanbul would be its capital,” Turhan Özen, Chief Cargo Officer at Turkish Airlines quoted a certain nineteenth-century Frenchman in his closing words at the WCS 2022, extending a warm welcome to the WCS audience, and revealing the location of the 16th WCS. Finally returning to the location originally intended before the pandemic broke out in March 2020, next year’s WCS will be heading to Türkiye in the year the country celebrates its 100th year as a republic. Planned to take place 25-27APR23, the event is also being shifted back to a spring date, too. Istanbul is “the crossroads of our business,” Turhan Özen illustrated the country’s geographical, historical, and trade significance, and pointed out that the event could also be the audience’s “first chance to visit new mega hub SMARTIST”.
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