What GACAG does

19 / 06 / 2013

  • Oliver Evans, head of cargo for Swiss Air Lines

    Oliver Evans, head of cargo for Swiss Air Lines

GACAG, Tiaca, Cargo 2000, Fiata, IATA – if you feel that there is something of an alphabet soup of bodies all trying to effect change in the air cargo industry, then you are not alone. 

“There is an endless list of acronyms, initials and task forces,” concedes Oliver Evans, head of cargo for Swiss Air Lines. “At GACAG we have followed the industry practice of setting up task forces on e-commerce, security, sustainability and Customs, but they have also existed in other forms in IATA in the past. 

“Eventually we need to simplify the landscape a bit. There may be an opportunity to streamline these groups by merging the associations or organisations we have created. Maybe an intermediate step would be to merge some of the task forces.”

One might say that the two industry bodies that Evans currently heads are themselves adding to the confusion. When he became chairman of TIACA – the International Air Cargo Association – in mid April, he also became chair of the steering committee for GACAG – the Global Air Cargo Advisory Group. GACAG describes itself on its website as ‘the unified voice of air cargo’ whereas TIACA says it ‘represents all the major segments of the air cargo and air logistics industry’. You could not blame an outsider for being confused.

GACAG was in fact set up in November 2010 to bridge the gap between TIACA, IATA, Fiata and shippers’ representatives – each of the three organisations plus the Global Shippers Council have two members on the GACAG board. Its key role is to act as single voice for the air cargo industry when talking to regulators and other policy-set-ting bodies.

But the situation still remains a little unclear because Evans insists that TIACA has not thereby transferred its lobbying role to GACAG. “We [TIACA] chair the steering committee of GACAG; we are on each of the task forces. So our influence is growing, not declining,” he says.

“TIACA has shown itself very much driving this agenda for the industry, and we’re attracting more strategic partners – such as the global handling organisation and the WTO too. TIACA is the key vehicle, because our membership is open to all these individual organisations and companies.”

One group that TIACA does not represent, however, are shippers, and Evans says this was the main reason for setting up GACAG. One might also say (though Evans does not) that, prior to GACAG, there was a perception that both IATA and Fiata were pushing the interests of their own particular members, which was a barrier to progress on issues such as e-freight.

So what does GACAG actually do? Evans says there is a meeting or conference call each month for the steering committee, and that agrees on the priorities for the industry as a whole. Below this there are four task forces – on e-commerce, facilitation, security and sustainability.

He thinks the most important achievement of the organisation has been that it is now seen as a one-stop shop for those who want to get the air cargo industry’s views on any topic. He cites a meeting with US Customs and Border Protection in November and an upcoming one with the advisor to the EU Commissioner for climate action.

Evans himself also represented GACAG on the CEO panel before the ICAO Transportation Conference in March. This conference, which happens only once every 10 years, had not previously invited representation from the air cargo industry.

Given that ICAO has some important initiatives on its plate, not least reaching a global agreement on emissions trading in aviation, this is important recognition. “You can argue that we also helped the USA to change their views on emissions trading, to bring them to work within ICAO,” says Evans. “Various voices influenced this decision, but the fact is we had a very strong voice too.”

On the security front, GACAG claims credit for influencing the announcement a few months ago by the EU, US, Switzerland and Canada that they would mutually recognise each other’s security regimes – a decision that removed from air cargo the major headache of duplicating screening and other procedures for different regulators. 

Going forward, GACAG is working with both the ACAS scheme in the USA and the parallel ACC3 initiative in the EU on the screening of inbound cargo. The key issue here is how entities can be recognised as safe and screened.

Evans falls short of declaring sudden changes to security regimes are a thing of the past – regulators, he points out, are after all civil servants answering to politicians who are sensitive to changing events. “But they have at least understood that their mandate to ensure the security of trade can be compr0-mised if the industry is not able to respond. The fact that there is a very intense dialogue with us shows that they should avoid knee-jerk responses in future.”

On e-commerce, GACAG recently produced a roadmap for the 100 per cent implementation of e-freight by 2015. One might ask how this is different from other roadmaps, declarations or targets for e-freight in the past, all of which have failed.

Evans’s reply is that this roadmap has been embraced by all stakeholders – IATA, Fiata and shippers too, something that was not true of earlier plans. “Everyone agrees that this is an ambitious target, but the difference is that it is also now a realistic one,” he says. “Through the intensive dialogue that has taken place, there is now a much greater realisation of how to proceed in a step-by-step approach.”

One example he cites is the new multilateral e-airwaybill agreement reached by IATA and Fiata, and another is an agreement from forwarders and shippers that electronic documents have to be created as early as possible in the chain. 

He concedes that by no means all shippers do this – that some regard sending a pdf as submitting data electronically – “but they have agreed it is necessary to migrate to submitting data electronically as quickly as possible. They now recognise that only when the industry has converted to electronic documents will all parties be able to benefit from a reduction in costs and – what I think is even more important – better quality of information.”

Whether this approach will succeed where others have not is something that will only become evident in the next few years, of course. And that, perhaps, is a problem, with a lot of the work GACAG does. Much of it is behind the scenes and involves lots of painstaking detail. How useful or effective it actually is might not be immediately evident.

Going back to the alphabet soup highlighted at the beginning, Evans cites the example of Cargo 2000, which GACAG invited to its meeting in early May. “The Cargo 2000 process map fits perfectly with the process mapping required by Customs organisations for advanced information reporting, so it makes sense to look at how we might cooperate with them,” he says.

“We also need to look at the various task forces in the air cargo industry and see whether they are undertaking parallel [duplicated]activities, and whether we could be marshalling our resources more effectively.”

Resources generally means the time and energy of hard-worked industry executives, of course.

Evans is fond of repeating that he is lucky enough to head a cargo division [Swiss] that runs smoothly enough to allow him to spend time on industry committees. 

He is encouraged to see a new generation getting involved in such activities, however.

“At the last meeting of TIACA we welcomed several new members to the board – Lucas Kuehner of Panalpina, Essa Al-Saleh, the chief executive of Agility, Sanjiv Edward, from Delhi Airport.

So an increasing number of [new] people are asking how they can help, which is good to see.”