Exceptional business

posted on 15th September 2020
Exceptional business

IATA’s Glyn Hughes argues that there is no such thing as normal for air freight, but an industry always responding to rapidly changing situations or crises.

Is a new normal (or a ‘pre-new normal’?) emerging for the air freight sector, as some countries and their economies begin to emerge from the initial effects of the pandemic?
This is an interesting question as I believe there never was an old normal. History tells us that trade wars, terrorism, fuel prices, volcanos, natural disasters, conflicts, consumer trends, manufacturing evolution, plus countless other influencers resulted in an industry that was always subject to changing situations.

What does that ‘new normal’ look like – or do organisations now have to prepare for several ‘new normals’?
Notwithstanding my previous answer, the industry is developing many contingency plans for what may happen next. Until a vaccine is developed and in widespread deployment, international passenger travel will remain under pressure. The resultant reduced global air cargo capacity will mean continued high freighter utilisation and continued cargo network operations using passenger aircraft in cargo-only configuration. If a vaccine results in increased global passenger operations, I would expect to see a phasing out of the cargo-only passenger flights.

To what extent has the air freight sector adapted to the emerging new normal?
Innovation and dedication to serving the air cargo customer community has been high these past 6 months. Cargo crews continued to fly to destinations where quarantine restrictions were in place; aircraft sanitisation and crew safety concerns resulted in new procedures being developed and implemented in very quick order. Closed airspace required a strong and united industry voice to work with governments to get things reopened for air cargo, which was often bringing in life-saving or life-protecting commodities. Social lockdown often resulted in staff shortages in cargo facilities around the world, but once again the industry responded and worked with local agencies and governments to open travel channels to get key workers in place.

To what extent have perspectives on, and approaches to, planning had to change as the effects of the pandemic have progressed?
The unprecedented demand for PPE, which shifted around the world as the Covid crisis impacted different communities, resulted in significant unidirectional demand chains and the need for flexibly deployed aircraft. Planning was more about reacting as global capacity challenges became more evident.

To what extent can companies or organisations meaningfully plan at the current time?
One size does not fit all and there is not a single blueprint which tells us what to do next. So, I think the industry is doing what it needs to do to respond to today’s challenges whilst building agile and flexible solutions designed to cater for whatever the world throws at it.

What are the implications of these changes for your organisation?

IATA is being asked to develop new industry standards in rapid quick time, and we are being asked to advocate for industry-supportive regulations and support from governments. We are working even more closely than usual with international regulatory bodies to ensure air cargo can continue to support communities in need and we are working with various agencies such as the WHO, WFP and others in preparation for a temperature-controlled global vaccine distribution programme.

How sustainable is this situation?
Times are difficult, many airlines have struggled financially, as have other companies within the supply chain, but demand is high and the desire to support customer needs is as high as ever. Air cargo is known for getting the job done, and the Covid crisis has reinforced this.