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Vertannes looks back over 44 years in air cargo

By John W. McCurry on May 29, 2014

Des Vertannes, with his retirement as IATA’s head of cargo this month, brings to a close a 44-year career in air cargo. He has become known as a passionate airfreight ambassador and an ardent catalyst for the movement toward a paperless industry.

Vertannes began his career with British Airways in 1970, holding several management positions across 14 years. In 1984, he established his own forwarding business before joining Air Canada as general manager, cargo, in 1991. He subsequently was chief executive with Air Menzies International, was managing director at Menzies World Cargo and was head of cargo at Gulf Air and Etihad. He joined IATA four years ago.

As he looks back over 44 years in the business, it’s no surprise that the personable Vertannes says what he will miss most is the people of air cargo.

“Certainly, the people I have worked with at the six companies I have worked for have been an influential part of my life,” Vertannes says. “I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work in different parts of the world and make contributions within the industry.”

Vertannes embraced innovation throughout his career and in recent years became perhaps the industry’s biggest catalyst for going paperless. He says it’s a bigger challenge than most people think, but he’s convinced the industry will get there in a few years.

“I have always felt very passionate about the industry and its need to serve its principal customers,” Vertannes says. “My view is that the need to innovate and evolve has always been there. I think when I look at the paperless aspirations, it’s one small component of the need for the industry to redefine its value proposition. I am extremely motivated by the fact it needs to achieve the goal. A lot of people do not understand why it has taken so long to get here. The sheer complexity of the paperless aspiration with the architecture and infrastructure the industry has in place today – I would love to see it escalated and accelerated. I believe we will see that in the months and years ahead.”

Looking into his crystal ball, Vertannes believes there will be much more interaction along the industry’s chain with airlines, forwarders, GSSAs and handlers working in partnership, as they never have before. He also believes his proposal to peel 48 hours off transit times is achievable as the industry embraces more cohesive data transfer procedures.

The industry’s myriad challenges notwithstanding, Vertannes sees a bright future.

“I have always been an optimist, a natural optimist about the industry. I really believe that given how I see world trade and the need for extended world trade with a growing population, particularly the growing population within what I call the megacities of this world and an increasing urban population. I believe air cargo will have a very prosperous future. You cannot sustain life in the big urban cities without very good air cargo service. I also believe airports will wake up to importance of air cargo and we will see far greater investments in facilities in the decades to come.”

Is there a chance of Vertannes returning to cargo down the road? Not in the near future, he says.

“I made a promise to the family that I will dedicate quite a bit of time to Gloria and the children, and the expanding number of grandchildren coming my way. We had No. 6 in April and No. 7 is due in August. I would like to spend some quality time with my family. Who knows what the future brings. My immediate plans are to take a complete break.”


Tributes from colleagues

Des will be sorely missed by all those who shared paths with him throughout his illustrious career within the air cargo industry. While I did not have the privilege of working with him during his tenure at Air Canada Cargo, where he held the position of General Manager Cargo-Europe from 1995-1999, I still hear very positive comments from those he did lead at the time. Des' wonderful leadership and deep understanding of our industry served to teach us and to lead us down the straight road. Always a good listener, solution-oriented and forever the perfect diplomat, he reassured and inspired us all. We will miss his gentle turn of phrase and good humor. I wish Des the very best for this well deserved retirement. Over to us now to pursue the direction, which he has so clearly articulated for our industry.