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IATA sets out air cargo’s top four priorities at the World Cargo Symposium

IATA's Brendan Sullivan

Sustainability, modernisation, safety and attracting talent were the key topics identified by the International Air Transport Association at the 15th World Cargo Symposium, which took place in London this week (27-29 September).

The organisation highlighted four priorities to build resilience and strengthen air cargo’s post-pandemic prospects. These are: achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050; continuing to modernise processes; finding better solutions to safely carry lithium batteries; and making air cargo attractive to new talent.

“Air cargo had a stellar year in 2021 achieving US$204 billion in revenues. At present, however, social and economic challenges are mounting. The war in Ukraine has disrupted supply chains, jet fuel prices are high and economic volatility has slowed GDP growth,” said IATA’s global head of cargo Brendan Sullivan.

“Despite this, there are positive developments. E-commerce continues to grow, Covid restrictions are easing, and high-value specialised cargo products are proving resistant to economic ups-and-downs. Going forward, achieving our net zero commitment, modernizing processes, finding better solutions to safely carry lithium batteries, and making air cargo attractive to new talent are critical.”

In 2021 the aviation industry agreed a balanced plan to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. According to IATA, a potential scenario for this is 65 per cent through sustainable aviation fuel (SAF); 13 per cent from hydrogen and electric propulsion; three per cent from more efficient operations; and 19 per cent through offsets and eventually through carbon capture, as an out-of-sector solution while technology develops.

“SAF is the key to achieving net zero emissions,” noted Sullivan. “Airlines used every drop that was available in 2021. And it will be the same this year. The challenge is SAF production capacity. The solution is government incentives. With the right incentives, we could see 30 billion litres of SAF by 2030. That would be a tipping point by 2030 towards our net zero ambition of ample SAF quantities at affordable prices.”

Turning to modernisation and efficiency, Sullivan said: “The challenges of the Covid crisis gave us confidence that we can change and adapt fast. We need to use that confidence to get even closer to the expectations for modernisation that our customers have. And we need to be true to air cargo’s unique selling point and move even faster.”

IATA highlighted two areas where progress was being made. One is the association’s ‘ONE Record’, which is making it possible for everyone across the industry’s value chain to see the same information on shipments. Already 156 companies and four customs authorities are using it.

Another is IATA’s ‘Interactive Cargo Guidance’, which provides a common framework so that tracking devices can monitor the quality and accuracy of conditions of time and temperature sensitive goods.

Government support for the modernisation agenda through facilitating trade is also critical, Sullivan said.

“The Revised Kyoto Convention which brings standardisation, technology, predictability and speed to trade facilitation and the World Customs Organization (WCO) SAFE Framework of standards to facilitate and secure trade are major steps forward in supporting global trade,” he said. “But we are still seeing far too many diverging requirements by governments in areas that should be harmonised by these two tools. This needs to change quickly so we can continue to support global trade – and its vital contributions to economies and the UN Sustainable Development Goals – with modern and efficient air cargo. Universal adoption and implementation will deliver the greatest benefits.”

aSafety, specifically finding better solutions to safely carry lithium batteries was also highlighted as a priority for the industry. “We can be proud of the progress that we are making to further improve the safe handling of lithium batteries,” said Sullivan. “For air cargo, this is a top priority. But even the best regulatory structure means nothing if the rules are not followed. Compliance is an issue with the transport of lithium batteries, particularly with the proliferation of new – and inexperienced – entrants in e-commerce activities.”

IATA called for regulatory authorities such as EASA and FAA to accelerate development of a test standard that can be used to demonstrate that fire containment pallet covers and fire-resistant containers are capable of withstanding a fire involving lithium batteries.

Government authorities also need to step up and take responsibility for stopping rogue producers and exporters of lithium batteries, said Sullivan. Additionally, the industry should use technology such as DG Autocheck to more easily and accurately verify that the shipment complies with DG requirements.

To embed best practices on the safe carriage of lithium batteries across the value chain, IATA has expanded its ‘CEIV Lithium Battery’ programme to include airlines and shippers.

The final priority is attracting and retaining talent. “People are the core of any improvement in what air cargo can deliver. Sadly, we saw thousands of jobs leave the industry during Covid-19, especially cargo handlers,” said Sullivan. “We are now competing for talent in a very tight job market. And when we do find the right and willing talent, training and longer-than-usual security clearance processes delay their entry into the workforce.”

IATA called for governments to accelerate clearance processes, including those for security, as a short-term solution and longer term to do a better job of attracting, onboarding, and retaining talent.

IATA also encouraged more cargo carriers to sign on to the industry-wide 25by2025 initiative to promote gender diversity. “The need to create equal opportunities for the female half of the world’s population is highlighted by the situation today where the industry is struggling to attract sufficient talent. Achieving an equal gender balance must be core to any long-term talent strategy,” said Sullivan.

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