Air cargo is at its most innovative point in history, says IATA’s Glyn Hughes
The air cargo industry is “at its most innovative that it’s ever been at any point in its history,” was the upbeat assessment by IATA global head of cargo Glyn Hughes speaking to media at the conclusion of the three-day World Cargo Symposium in Singapore.
The Symposium’s Innovation Awards are clear evidence, he says, that there’s plenty of innovation to be had within the industry. A full 56 entries vied for the top prize of US$20,000, with Unilode taking home the gold medal with its Bluetooth-enabled ULD offering.
Hughes notes that if you talk to anyone in the industry – be it carriers, forwarders, ground handlers – everyone is talking about new things they are working on specific to the changing global environment. “And that, to me, is the most fascinating aspect of where the industry is now,” he adds.
What is also changing is a shift to solution-led standards from standard-led solutions. Rather than developing standards and then finding solutions to address them – typically a very long process of years – companies and individuals are now trying new things which can lead to the basis for new standards, Hughes says.
“I think that’s leading to a much more dynamic environment and fostering greater innovation,” he says, adding that all of this is being enabled by dramatic advances in global digitalisation, something the industry has been taken to task for over recent years for not moving fast enough.
Indeed, virtually every single one of the dozen tracks at the Symposium featured a strong vein of digitalisation. Also central to this were the themes of information-sharing and collaboration.
“Those three themes are common for every area of activity this industry needs to tackle,” emphasises Hughes. “So I think we’ve got some challenges to really embrace this.”
But importantly there is high level support for meeting these challenges, he says, noting: “I’ve never seen heads of cargo so bullish about embracing technology; but they’re saying we don’t have five years – we have to do the things in three years because if we don’t, somebody else will.
“And I think that’s a very strong message that we are going to carry through the next 12 months,” he adds.
Hughes was also upbeat on the overall tenor of the event, pointing to the “buoyancy, optimism and the passion”, that was displayed by participants despite the fact the year started particularly poorly with a contraction in January, year-on-year.
“There was no pessimism,” he says, suggesting the sector has not only become more resilient than it has been in the past, but that positive signs – the proverbial ‘green shoots’ – are evident, thanks in part to special cargo and in particular e-commerce.
“I think that’s one of the resounding structural changes that we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” suggesting that it is one of air cargo’s most significant developments of the last 10-15 years, after the global financial crisis and growing protectionism slowed air cargo growth to a trickle.
“But now with e-commerce and with the special cargoes, it’s almost the built-in resilience to other factors, but will certainly mean we are somewhat cushioned from the full depth of the slowdown in international trade.”
Hughes goes on to note that even if the multiplier between international trade growth and GDP is now 1 to 1, the fact that air cargo has its positive influences such as e-commerce, means the modal windfall for air cargo generates an additional positive multiplier on top of that multiplier.
“So, while there was a slowdown in the beginning of the year, we are very confident that once the uncertainty (in particular, the US-China trade war and Brexit) is resolved, the industry can go back to the higher growth trajectory,” he says.