Airlines hinge air cargo resilience on investments in automation, safety
To sustain the current growth momentum in the global air freight market, world airlines have called for renewed investment in digitalisation and safety processes in the value chain.
The airlines, at the opening of the 16th World Cargo Symposium (WCS), in Istanbul, Turkey, this week, reckoned that the operating environment remained very challenging for all, and therefore, required new commitments to keep air cargo gains resilient.
Global Head of Cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Brendan Sullivan, noted that air cargo is already a different industry than the one that entered the pandemic.
Reasons are: revenues are greater than they were pre-pandemic, yields are higher, and the world has learned how critical supply chains are to modern economies.
“And the contribution of air cargo to the bottom line of airlines is more evident than ever,” Sullivan said. “Yet, we are still linked to the business cycle and global events. So, the war in Ukraine, uncertainty over where critical economic factors like interest rates, exchange rates and job growth are concerns that are real to the industry today. As we navigate the current situation, air cargo’s priorities have not changed, we need to continue to focus on sustainability, digitalisation, and safety,” he said.
Specifically, sustainability is a critical priority and the aviation industry’s license to do business. Last October, at the 41st International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Assembly, governments agreed to the Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the industry’s commitment adopted in 2021.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is critical to achieving that goal. About 65per cent of carbon abatement will come from SAF, however, production levels remain challenging. IATA called for government incentives in the area of production.
Sullivan said: “SAF is being produced. And every drop is being used. The problem is that the quantities are small. The solution is government policy incentives. Through incentivising production, we could see 30 billion litres of SAF available by 2030. That will still be far from where we need to be. But it would be a clear tipping point towards our net zero ambition of ample SAF quantities at affordable prices.”
Air cargo also needs to continuously improve its efficiency through automation. The area with the greatest potential is digitalising the operations. IATA outlined three goals, which include a 100 per cent airline capability of One Record by January 2026.
This initiative will replace the many data standards used for transport documents with a single record for every shipment. The cargo conference agreed that it wants to achieve 100 per cent airline capability by January 1, 2026, and the Cargo Advisory Council supports this vision.
Secondly, ensuring digital standards are in place to support the global supply chain. Guidance has been finalised on tracking devices – the IATA Interactive Cargo guidelines – used to monitor the quality and accuracy of conditions of time, and temperature-sensitive goods being shipped worldwide.
Lastly, ensuring compliance and support for customs, trade facilitation and other government processes that are increasingly digitalised. Digitalisation plays an important role in evolving strategies for trade facilitation, reducing operational barriers at borders, and managing the flow of goods securely.
“Alongside sustainability and efficiency is safety. The agenda for air cargo continues to be dominated by lithium batteries. A lot has been done. But, quite honestly, it is still not enough,” Sullivan said.
The airlines called for stopping rogue shippers, adding that civil aviation authorities must take strong action against shippers not declaring lithium batteries in cargo or mail shipments. Also, accelerating the development of a test standard for fire-resistant aircraft containers with a fire involving lithium batteries. Lastly, ensuring recognition from governments of the single standard to identify all lithium battery-powered vehicles, which comes into effect from January 1, 2025.
Sullivan reiterated that air cargo is a critically important industry. “It helps build a better future for the people of the world. Working together to ensure that air cargo remains a reliable and efficient means of providing support to those in need, while simultaneously strengthening our global supply chains and contributing to the sustainable development of our economies is essential,” he said.