Global air cargo has been on a downturn for almost 1.5 years, as evidenced by figures from IATA and quarterly results from leading airlines and logistics companies. Yet, there was no sign of wailing and gnashing of teeth at the Frankfurt Air Cargo Forum (ACCF). In addition to a few critical remarks, industry representatives and experts presented many encouraging perspectives. Not only for Frankfurt (FRA) as an air cargo location, but for the industry as a whole. Here are key takeaways. More are to come in PART 2.
First to mention is the overall outline of this mammoth event. The meeting, which took place from 06-07SEP23 at the House of Logistics & Mobility (HOLM), on the outskirts of the airport, was
attended by over 460 participants. A record figure, as the responsible organizer, Felix Toepsch, noted. It was his baptism of fire after having taken over the baton from long-time ACCF chief,
Joachim von Winning. A premiere that he passed with flying colors, going by the general consensus of those present.
Yet, besides the record number of attendees, the two Cargo Days also provided valuable take-aways, delivered by industrial insiders as well as international experts and scholars.
Air freight deserves greater attention
One of the experts was Clemens Christmann, Managing Director of the Federation of Hessian Business Associations (vhu). In his presentation, he emphasized the enormous importance of air traffic for Frankfurt and Central Europe. For example, the airport is the largest employer in Germany with 80,000 people directly or indirectly working there. This was surprising news to most, as their subjective priority list of largest employers usually includes DHL, VW, or Siemens. With 2.2 million tons handled (2022), FRA ranks first in cargo throughput in Europe, followed by CDG and AMS. However, not only because of the high volumes handled, but also and mainly because of its product structure, FRA fulfills an important supply function in pharmaceutical transports, hi-tech, and e-commerce for the entire country. Unfortunately, these facts are not known by the broad public, which does not make the social acceptance of air freight any easier, he reasoned.
Establishing level playing fields is key
At the same time, he complained about distortions of competition to the detriment of European cargo airlines. They have to circumvent Russia on transcontinental east-west routes demanded by western sanctions imposed on the bellicostic Putin regime. Since China rejected sanctioning Moscow, China Eastern or China Southern continue to cross Siberian air space on routes to/from Europe. This saves them between 1.5 to 2 hours per leg, reduces fuel burn, and speeds up air transports.
And what does the EU say about this obvious distortion of competition to the detriment not only of European freight but also passenger airlines? Nothing, Mr. Christmann complained. According to him, Frankfurt loses 10% of its tonnage to competitors as a result of the sanction scheme. Measured by last year's figures, that would amount to 220,000 tons.
“What we need, is an even playing field,” he exclaimed. Berlin’s policy makers still set the tune, but the notes are written in Brussels. And Brussels is dominated by bureaucrats who cling to a regulatory policy. He urged that it was time that “Germany, backed by its dominant economic role within the block of 27, plays a much more important role in EU policy.” This statement was loudly applauded by those present.
Combining AI and customized Chat GPT
In his keynote address, Max Pillong of Lufthansa Industry Solutions hailed the application of Chat GPT and the merits it brings to the freight industry. His company is currently working on customizing this “fascinating tool” by learning to clearly interpret common abbreviations such as AWB, td.Pro or DG, and explain them to the user in an application-specific way. Users can thus build a data-based architecture that meets their specific professional needs and tasks. This customization is in progress, he said. The expert outlined broad applications in aviation through customized Chat GPT, which tend to make work easier and decisions more transparent. The combination of AI and customized Chat GPT as a text generator tool, will be an innovation driver for air cargo - and not only there, but for many industrial fields, the expert predicted. Lufthansa Industry Solutions is leading the way in the development of this new application-based tool, he rounded off.
Volumes up, turnover down
Lecturer, Alessandro Bombelli, from the Dutch Delft University of Technology, provided concrete annual figures regarding cargo throughput: According to his 2023 annual forecast, global cargo turnover will reach USD 142.3 billion. However, to a certain extent, turnover will continue to decline, while volumes will remain stable or even increase slightly due to the upcoming peak season.
Kal Petrov of Dronamics Global assured that his ‘Black Swans’ (which are coated white, meanwhile!) will start commercial ops in late 2023, first within Greece and then enlarging the network next year by connecting the countries located around the Mediterranean Sea. “We intend to offer same-day delivery by offering scheduled services between northern and southern Italy, flying from mainland Portugal to Madeira, and establishing a network across the Arabian Peninsula,” were the hottest plans the Dronamics manager tabled at Frankfurt. Next on the agenda are drone networks in the USA and Australia, he added. Touching operational and technical issues, he assured that the ‘Black Swans’ can be powered by conventional kerosene, SAF, or Synfuels. Dronamics collaborates with Sovereign Speed and Hellmann, but only markets the capacity of their drones without selling them. According to the Bulgarian operator, the remotely navigated UAVs can uplift up to 350 kilograms per flight, cover a distance of 1,500 kilometers, and reach a cruising speed of 180 km/h.
… and small drones
Another area of drone application, is the use of UAVs within warehouses, facilitating the inventory of goods or monitoring shelf layouts. This increases the efficiency of storage processes, saves time, and relieves warehouse staff, summarized Manuel Krieg of doks.innovation GmbH. Founded in JAN18, his company accelerates the digitalization of stocktaking, and offers customers smart data management solutions for intralogistics.
Mirko Schedlbauer of shipzero, presented his company’s data-driven software-program to effectively lower greenhouse gas emissions by supporting the industry in managing their GGE and facilitating their specific path to net-zero. For this, the startup has developed an emissions data platform, enabling automated CO2 calculation as a precondition to successively lowering emissions. “At shipzero, our mission is to reduce climate harmful gases in global freight transportation. We help shippers, logistics service providers, and carriers to manage transport emissions and facilitate their path to net-zero with decision-focused information from our data-driven software-tool,” he illustrated.
One of the highlights of DAY ONE, was Henk Mulder’s vivid presentation of the IATA-developed messaging tool, ONE Record. Starting on 01JAN26, it will become the standard tool for seamless data transmission across the industry when it comes to exchanging and sharing information. In Germany, Lufthansa Cargo has been pivotal, as have the Digital Testfield Air Cargo of Fraunhofer Institute (DTAC), Riege Software, DB Schenker, and a number of other players, Henk applauded. He stressed that ONE Record is a cooperative tool, not a competitive issue, upping the industry’s efficiency, process visibility, enhancing the customer experience, spurring innovation, and enabling new, sustainable business models. In a nutshell: ONE Record is a great bearer of hope for the entire air cargo industry, for improved information exchange through transparent data flows, and as an incubator of new business processes. When asked by CargoForwarder Global whether customs will also implement ONE Record, a senior Frankfurt customs officer said: “That should be a manageable task. We build an interface to our proven ATLAS system and the issue is solved.”
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