16th IATA WCS kicks off with three priorities

Brendan Sullivan, IATA global head of cargo

IATA’s 16th World Cargo Symposium (WCS) opened in Istanbul on April 25, with global head of cargo Brendan Sullivan highlighting three priorities for the industry: sustainability, digitalisation and safety.

“Air cargo is a different industry [from] the one that entered the pandemic. Revenues are greater than they were pre-pandemic. Yields are higher. The world learned how critical supply chains are. 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,” he went on. “So, the war in Ukraine, uncertainty over where critical economic factors like interest rates, exchange rates and jobs 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.”

Describing sustainability as “our industry’s licence to do business and a critical priority”, Sullivan noted aviation’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, as well as the policy support that should follow in the wake of the 41st ICAO Assembly last year – when governments committed to the same goal.

In particular, he called for governments to incentivise production of SAF (sustainable aviation fuel), which he said will contribute 65% of carbon abatement.

“SAF is being produced. And every single drop is being used… 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,” said Sullivan.

Other areas of focus for IATA in regards to sustainability are the development of accurate, standardised emissions calculation methodology and tools such as CO2 Connect for Cargo (which IATA will launch later this year); the expansion of the IATA Environmental Assessment (IEnvA) to airports, cargo handling facilities, freight forwarders, and ramp handlers to build trust in the industry’s sustainability actions; and the development of ESG (environmental, social and governance) metrics to “cut through” the many methodologies in circulation currently, with the launch of IATA’s ESG Metrics for Airlines.

Under the second priority, digitalisation, Sullivan outlined three goals: 100% airline capability of ONE Record by January 2026, to replace the many data standards used for transport documents with a single record for every shipment; ensuring digital standards – the IATA Interactive Cargo guidelines – are in place to support the global supply chain by monitoring the quality and accuracy of conditions of time- and temperature-sensitive goods in transit, alongside the association’s participation in the European Commission’s ‘FEDeRATED’ project to develop interoperable technologies and data architectures for use in multimodal transport; and ensuring compliance and support for Customs, trade facilitation and other government processes that are increasingly digitalised.

One example of this latter element is IATA’s work supporting the rollout of the EU’s new Pre-Loading Advance Cargo Information (PLACI) System. PLACI went live on 1 March 2023 despite 12 European states not being ready and not having given definitive information about their timelines for readiness, Sullivan said. “We are working with these states to provide the necessary clarity to enable airlines to adapt their own implementation planning.”

Finally, safety remains high on the air cargo agenda – with the transport of lithium batteries still dominating. IATA believes that civil aviation authorities must take strong action against shippers not declaring lithium batteries in cargo or mail shipments. It also wants to see faster development of a test standard for fire-resistant aircraft containers with a fire involving lithium batteries, as well as recognition from governments of the single standard to identify all lithium battery-powered vehicles, which will come into effect on 1 January 2025.

Ultimately: “Air cargo is a critically important industry,” Sullivan said. “It helps build a better future for the people of the world. It’s an industry that saves lives, delivering aid and relief to those in need… 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.”

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