“Success is dictated on the ground, not in the air” (Stan Wraight), was just one of a number of good sound bites over the ACHL 2023 in Athens, Greece, held 20-22SEP23. CargoForwarder Global shares its impressions.
Success is pretty much dictated at the ACHL, you could say. Same venue as last year (Grand Hyatt Athens), including the coveted Bolivar beach party location on the second night (which, depending on who you spoke to, seemed to play a large part in the motivation to attend), this year’s Air Cargo Handling and Logistics conference again largely met with great enthusiasm, though also partly with regret by the current Chairman, Des Vertannes, given the smaller audience sizes during the various panels.
Though around 600 people had registered (compared to just under 500 in the previous year, and again a mix of ground handlers, ground equipment producers, packaging solution providers, airlines, airports, ULD operators and manufacturers, SaaS providers, and training and change management specialists), these were often dispersed among the well-attended Exhibition Hall, and the flanking conference agendas: ULD Care, Airfreight Pharma, and the ASA Leadership Forum. Attendees were thus spoilt for choice when it came to interesting and relevant discussion topics. Those with booths stated that footfall was good, with Day 2 being the best-attended, whilst others had preplanned back-to-back meetings. Overall, the feedback was very positive and the atmosphere congenial. The event’s growth (particularly with regard to booth requests) means that a larger venue is being sourced for the following year – likely in a different country.
Implementing last year’s intentions
Three topics had been voted for at the end of last year’s conference, and these formed the subject of the first three panels on Day 1: The implementation and adoption of digitization to 60/70% of company activities; Identify, encourage, and develop diverse talents and provide mentorship; and thirdly - Attract young talent. The promise, too, of a better gender mix on panels, including at least one female moderator, was also met, giving a more balanced impression overall. And that the industry is a close-knit family, was illustrated with Des Vertannes’ opening words in remembrance of Hans-Georg Emmert, Managing Director of CHI Aviation GmbH, who had sadly passed away on 14SEP23, and had previously been very much a part of ACHL.
The importance of innovation for success
Day 1 kicked off mid-morning with an Innovation Showcase where event sponsors were given a platform to share their latest developments. Chris Notter's introduction defined innovation as the process of renewing and updating domains, products, and services to create new value. Kicking off with another great summary sound bite, this time from Bob Rogers during his ULD movement app presentation: “ULDs are the oil that lubricate air cargo!”, the presenters demonstrated modern warehousing technologies, introduced software solutions for warehouse, ramp, and cabin operations (emphasizing their efficiency and cost-saving potentials), demonstrated the U-Lo system for ULD build-up planning, enhancing efficiency in flight planning, focused on flexible, pay-as-you-go training solutions, highlighted a comprehensive, end-to-end operational system for airlines, and stressed the importance of integrating digital apps into ground handling processes.
“A little exposure can go a long way!”
Abedin Dula was the one to state “A little exposure can go a long way!” as another take-away sound bite, this time from the final panel on Day 1, which discussed the strategies for attracting young talent to the air cargo industry, highlighting the need for cultural change, technological advancement, and improved communication. He referred to his start as a baggage handler and meeting the right people, eventually taking him to his current position as Account Manager at VRR.
Other panels over the three days focused on implementing digitalization in logistics activities, giving insights on challenges and potential solutions; encouraged participants to take action in attracting and retaining talent in the air cargo industry, emphasizing the importance of purpose, ownership, and impact; tackled the issues of quality and compliance within the industry and along the value chain; talked about the importance of modern cargo infrastructure at airports (hence the ‘success is dictated on the ground’ quote), sustainability, ecommerce, and tackled the topics of transparency, visibility, and standards, referencing ONE Record and the Single Window concept.
Objectives for next year
The conference had faced a few external challenges, given that the usual Tuesday-Thursday planning had to be shifted to Wednesday-Friday for capacity reasons, hence fewer delegates joined on the final day, and the situation was further exacerbated by a 24-hour strike in Athens affecting the airport and various forms of transportation on 21SEP23. This caused flight delays and overbookings. All that boiled down to the final panel turning into an offstage Armchair Discussion with around 30 participants, and the usual conference audience vote on topics for the following year being switched to an online vote next week.
What was communicated, however, was that Des Vertannes, who has successfully and warmly chaired the ACHL for so many years, is now stepping down, and Henrik Ambak will succeed him for the next event.
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