From 25-27APR23, the World Cargo Symposium (WCS) that had originally been scheduled for MAR20, was finally able to take place in Istanbul (IST), Türkiye. The 16th WCS with its turnout of more than 1,200 participants, offered a wide spectrum of key notes and panel discussions on three main streams: Sustainability, Safety & Security, and Digitalization, complemented by parallel focus points such as e-Commerce and Focus on Türkiye.
Under this year’s motto, “Age of Change… Moving air cargo forward,” the event was literally kicked-“Orff”: Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” sounded over the loudspeakers accompanied by a mysterious
Darbuka player on the center of the stage, who drummed his way through a medley of melodies before finally unveiling his face, symbolically opening the symposium. First up on stage, was Brendan
Sullivan – Global Head of Cargo, speaking the opening words, welcoming everyone to Istanbul, a center of commerce and trade, significant in its historical role in shaping the global landscape,
but also offering condolences to all those affected by the recent earthquakes. “We can take solace in the fact that air cargo provided much needed assistance.” Similarly, as host and
main sponsor of the event, Turhan Özen, Chief Cargo Officer Turkish Airlines, repeated the Napolean Bonaparte quote he had first used in London at the end of the last WCS: “If the world was
only one country, Istanbul would be its capital. We are right here at the center of the world where continents meet,” he continued, adding: “Full of culture, history, and now full of
A good mix and atmosphere
Talking to delegates, the mood was upbeat and the emphasis clearly on networking. Whilst some bemoaned a lack of airlines compared to previous events, others were happy with the selection of exhibitors and attending air cargo stakeholders. Similarly, various individuals were inspired by the different panels – Lithium Batteries in particular appeared to have made an impact, whereas my own personal favorite was Kendra Kincade’s Elevate Aviation and the discussion on attracting new talent to the industry: “You have people in your company who are passionate about talking to kids – so put value on that and pay them to do this. It will come back to you!”
Others felt that the topics were not discussed deeply enough, remaining at a superficial level. “We need more constructive criticism,” CFG was told, “Not just patting each other on the back.” Certainly, some topics seem to go around in circles, with repetitive messages: Sustainability is one such issue. As an industry, we should collectively be beyond the “start taking small steps” or still thinking about things, and actively be in the middle of the doing. Some companies such as LATAM Cargo which impressed with its blanket trials, are proactive in their adoption of available measures like SAF or implementing other plastic waste reduction initiatives, but it still seems a slow move – unlike Digitalization, which probably saw the largest number of delegates in its sessions.
What was certainly lacking on the Istanbul agenda, was the joint panel between IATA, TIACA, and FIATA, which had first kicked off in Dublin in 2021, then London in 2022. IATA had not approached its peer organizations this time around, and yet it is precisely this kind of stage presence and collaboration that should be demonstrated at a function like this. Where is the discussion on joint measures and collective achievements?
An upgraded version of men
The male/female ratio in panels and as attendees, was pretty good, and gender equality is increasingly finding traction. Whether the majority of the audience was enamored by Mehmet Nane’s assertion that “Women are an upgraded version of us [men]!” and his accompanying explanation reminiscent of the Women are from Venus and Men from Mars book, is questionable. However, it was positive to hear that Pegasus, which has the first female CEO in Turkish aviation industry, is focusing on “important initials such as ESG, GE, and DEI”, and is looking to further increase the number of women in the company – it currently stands at 32% female, and is trying to grow the numbers in pilot and tech. “When you increase the number of women in your company, efficiency increases by 30%! Show me another method where we can increase efficiency like that!” he concluded.
Poised to take a bigger role
“Air cargo is poised to take a bigger role in global transportation,” according to Ahmed Mulat, Chairman of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, Turkish Airlines; an opinion shared by Prof Dr Kamal Yüksek, DG of Civil Aviation DGCA of Türkiye, who said: “Air cargo has become the shining star of the sector in recent years. There is a new approach to ecommerce and logistics strategies. Airlines have started to increase cargo capacities. Many new air cargo companies have been established, which ensure competitiveness.” Brendan Sullivan underlined that it was a different industry than pre-pandemic, with greater revenues and air cargo’s contribution was more evident than ever, but that it was still linked to world events such as the war on Ukraine, inflation, and many other concerns for business. While pharma and ecommerce are still growing (the latter at 10%/year), “air cargo’s priorities have not changed: sustainability, digitalization, and safety” are all critical for improvement and success. The lack of manpower, too, poses a large challenge: “Unfortunately, 1000s of cargo handling jobs were eliminated in the pandemic. 34% of companies see staffing gaps until end of 2023.”
Not only is there not enough staff, but existing staff may also not stay very long. The industry needs to mitigate through automation, and foster a culture of continuous learning and growth, as well as run programs to attract people to air cargo and keep them here and proud to be in industry.
The pace of change now will be the slowest in the future
Christopher McDermott, CEO of Champ, pointed out in the Digitalization stream, that “the pace of technology change today is going to be the slowest in the future,” illustrating his comment with the rapid rise of AI and ChatGPT, and announcing quantum computing as the next to follow. An excellent basis for digitalization in the industry, given the acceleration of digital transformation in recent years. Similarly interesting quotes were made throughout the symposium. In general, LATAM Cargo’s Andrés Bianchi urged delegates to foster a culture of accepting mistakes: “Deal with failure – it is part of the process.” And when it comes to sustainable business, Danita Waterfall-Brizzi cited Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror: “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change.”
Having enjoyed Turkish hospitality throughout, both at the excellent Hilton Bomonti and at the spectacular 1001 Direk Cistern on the Wednesday night for the Gala Dinner, IATA revealed the location of the 17th WCS: The World Cargo Symposium 2024 will take place at the AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong from 12-14MAR24.
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