IATA global cargo conference focuses on the future of the air freight sector

12th March 2024 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The key themes at the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) 2024 World Cargo Symposium (being held in Hong Kong) were digitalisation, safety, and sustainability. (IATA was the global representative body for the airline industry, with some 320 member airlines which accounted for 83% of global air traffic.)

“Air cargo volumes are now firmly back to pre-pandemic levels,” highlighted IATA Global Head of Cargo Brendan Sullivan in his address to the symposium, on Tuesday. “The challenge now is to ensure that air cargo growth is efficient, safe and aligned with achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Through the hard work of the air cargo industry, the building blocks are in place to significantly accelerate progress in all these areas.”

For the air cargo industry, the greatest opportunity was provided by digitalisation. Even so, in this had been slower than the industry had desired.

“But progress is real,” he affirmed. “Inefficient paper-based, manual processes are being replaced with digital solutions in all aspects of cargo operations from tracking to customs clearance. That’s a fact. And it’s making international trade more efficient. Our call to action is clear: Governments must consistently implement global standards, supply chain partners need to collaborate to overcome shared challenges, and the entire industry must align to ensure a unified and effective approach to digitalisation.”

Three areas in which particular progress was being made – the seamless sharing of digital information; the digitalisation of customs and trade facilitation processes; and, shipment tracking – were highlighted. The use of the ONE Record standard was allowing the efficient and seamless sharing of data along the entire supply chain; the target was that all IATA members would be ONE Record capable by January 2026. Regarding customs and trade processes digitalisation, for example, Brazil’s adoption of IATA’s digital standards had slashed cargo release times from five days to five hours, and could reduce manual processing by up to 90%. As for shipment tracking, a unified framework for tracking devices for time- and temperature-sensitive cargoes was provided by the updated IATA Interactive Cargo Guidance.

“Safety is critical to air cargo’s success,” he emphasised. “Last year the industry’s safety record reached new heights. Among the 38-million flights in 2023 there were 30 accidents, just one of which was fatal. A good safety record is earned every day. For air cargo that means continuing to put special emphasis on the handling of dangerous goods, and in particular lithium batteries.”

Regarding the safe transport of lithium batteries, a fire-retardant shipping container test standard was ready for approval, while more than 90 airlines were now using the IATA Global Aviation Data Management programme to share data on incidents involving dangerous goods. Guidance had also been published for airlines to recognise and mitigate the risks posed by inexperienced e-commerce shippers, who made use of the postal system. And Annex 18 of the Chicago Convention, which covered the regulation and handling of dangerous goods, had been updated.

Sustainability, for the sector, was focused on the large-scale adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). These were forecast to achieve 65% of the carbon emissions mitigation needed for the aviation industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“There is no shortage of demand signals from airlines and shippers to use SAF,” pointed out Sullivan. “The problem remains a shortage of supply. As we saw with the introduction of solar and wind generation for electricity, production incentives are the way forward. Japan is a good example. The government has put a 10% production mandate on fuel suppliers. Singapore has also recently taken steps to create a Sustainable Air Hub with a view to foster SAF production and use. The US is another with tax credits embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act that are resulting in increased production.”