Around 350 international delegates from all across the air cargo industry descended upon Brussels last week for The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA)’s Executive Summit. The Airport’s iconic Skyhall provided a light, airy and relaxed conference backdrop, which reflected the general attitude of the attendees. A back-to-back agenda offering a broad spectrum of air cargo industry topics, nevertheless also allowed for adequate networking time. These are CargoForwarder Global’s impressions of the event.
Hailed as the largest TIACA Executive Summit to date, its Chair, Steven Polmans subsequently expressed his pride and verdict: “The cooperation between our team and our host, Brussels Airport Company, led to a highly successful event where the industry came together to network, learn, discuss, and debate issues affecting the industry. The energy throughout the event was extremely positive and fun. This underscores the importance the association's events bring to the industry as we work together to unite us all on a global scale.”
Certainly, taking place on his home turf, sponsored by Brussels Airport, with a strong Nallian/BRUcloud presence and other key national players, the event appeared more intimate and familiar than its predecessors. This was reflected both in the relaxed attitude most delegates had, as well as in the fun, red Tintin et Milou ‘goodie bags’ adorning everyone’s shoulder at some point over the three days. Not to mention, the general humor and awful puns peppering parts of the moderation, throughout – liberally supplied by TIACA’s Director General, Glyn Hughes.
Something for everyone
Before the agenda’s packed mix of topics (which included a look at trade and business challenges, airports, regulatory challenges, creating new opportunities, drones, digital innovation, workforce developments, precious cargo, sustainability, air cargo outlook, freighters, talent, statistics, etc.), really got going on 07-08NOV23, a more hands-on approach was offered as a regional introduction, the Monday prior. Around 30 participants turned up for a comprehensive tour of Brussels Airport on the morning of 06NOV23. Starting at the airport office, the group was presented an overview of the company’s strategy and focus points and learned that (among other things such as BRU being the country’s second largest economic driver after Antwerp), at a record annual revenue of €280 million [in 2022], Pharma was worth 6 times more than all the [1,600 types of] beer and chocolates in Belgium!
The airport has ambitious expansion plans and leads the way in CEIV Pharma certification and digitalization. Delegates of the airport tour visited the immaculate warehouses of Swissport and Expeditors before boarding an airside bus to pass DHL freighters, photograph a Hongyuang Group freighter, and see one of the airport’s USPs which secure its position as preferred Pharma hub in Europe: Airside Pharma Transporters that ensure a closed cool-chain between warehouse and aircraft.
Slightly cloudy BlueSky
Parallel to the Airport Tour were Nallian info sessions on cargo community system digitalization, which appeared well-attended. A BlueSky workshop was offered to those interested in learning more about TIACA’s sustainability program. Though the timing was well-planned to finish just before the welcome reception nearby, attendance was unfortunately far from what it should have been for such an important aspect of our industry and a helpful, well-thought-out program to guide companies on their sustainability journey. CFG’s suggestion would be to offer regular webinars on the topic, to accelerate awareness, acceptance, and adoption. Currently 15 companies are already benefiting from BlueSky guidelines, since the program was launched last year.
Rock of Ages
When they say that TIACA covers the entire air cargo industry, it is still nonetheless a delightful surprise to find that it grows its own entertainment, too. The Welcome Reception on 06NOV23, from 6-8 p.m., was accompanied by an excellent German import band by the name of Mallet, and featuring none other than TIACA member, BeConProject’s CEO, Uwe Beck. The band, which has been around for 4 decades, delivered high quality classic rock music, covering both hard and soft rock – the latter perfectly reflected in the guitarist’s stunning, silky-smooth hair.
That evening also saw around 40 Under-40s gather together for the Cargo Collective initiative – a network hosted by Michelle Lawrence, Sara Van Gelder, and Sam Quintelier, aimed at “inspire[ing] the next generation and empower[ing] the future of air cargo”. Some of the new generation in attendance, had flown in all the way from FUI Business – a Florida-based university offering a logistics program, and where PayCargo had provided event sponsorship.
In fact, overall, the delegates’ average age was lower than at previous TIACA events and there was a good gender mix. The food throughout the event, and particularly at Sint-Goriksplein, the evening location on 07NOV23 (a social meeting venue originally dating back to the Middle Ages, with the current original market building constructed in 1881), was top quality, and of course, no one could leave without tasting the national Moules et Frites specialty – particularly since the oil from Belgian frites is used to produce SAF – as delegates were taught back in the conference hall, the next day.
A perfect chocolate box of topics
The core of the event took place 07-08NOV23, with a packed agenda, and with almost all panels being very well attended. Opening with an aerial performance artist in honor of Amelia Earhart – one of the aviation industry’s first women and a fighter for women’s rights – and to encourage more, TIACA’s DG Hughes urged those present to put the industry’s women forward for future Hall of Fame nominations. Among the opening speeches, was one from the Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works, Lydia Peeters – an encouraging link to those in government with influence on the air cargo industry’s future.
A good mix of panel discussions and presentations followed, tackling the various challenges within the industry, adding some new information (with presenters such as UPU and the International Trade Center), dispelling a few myths (such as the nose-door drama which covers 3% of all global shipments and will not be a problem for another 20 years at the moment), and updating the audience on past Sustainability winner projects, for example. Alongside the three recurring central themes of Sustainability, Talent, and Digitalization, one incredibly popular buzzword this time around, was AI. Interestingly, it had even been deployed to create a couple of strikingly odd, future air cargo images for the Trade presentation. Two event highlights were the 2023 Hall of Fame induction, as well as the winners of the Sustainability Awards (both of these topics – and other TIACA panels - are reported on separately in this week’s and future CFG editions).
“Logistics is the lifeblood that keeps the world in motion,” was one memorable quote from Steven Polmans’ self-proclaimed “longest welcome speech, ever!” during which he also announced his third term as Chairman and pledged “that I will spare no effort in fortifying and improving TIACA, just as I have done over the past 4 years.” Speaking to delegates, the overall feedback regarding the event was positive, therefore boding well for the association’s 2024 plans, which include two more Regional Events, taking place this time in Latin America and Asia, and its next global event: the Air Cargo Forum in Miami, Florida, 12-15NOV24.
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