de Juniac’s air cargo priorities for 2019: Trade, global standards, modernization

SINGAPORE — After acknowledging a rather sour start to the year for air cargo, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac, in today’s opening address of the 13th World Cargo Symposium, called on governments and the air cargo industry to reverse this trend by focusing on three priorities to expand air cargo demand and maximize economic and social benefits of aviation:

Accelerating the speed of process modernization,

Implementing and enforcing global standards, and

Keeping borders open to trade.

Demand for air cargo grew by 3.5 percent in 2018, but it was a significant deceleration from 2017, which saw “extraordinary growth” of 9.7 percent, de Juniac said. Weakening global trade, sagging consumer confidence and geopolitical headwinds all contributed to a general slowdown in demand growth commencing in mid-2018, he added, and January 2019 saw a year-on-year contraction of 1.8 percent.

For his first point, the director general said on the opening of the Tuesday Plenary Session that modernization will be critical to meet the doubling of air cargo demand that is expected over the next two decades, especially in the industry’s most promising growth markets — e-commerce and the transport of time- and temperature-sensitive goods, such as pharmaceuticals and perishables.

Echoing a resolution on modernizing air cargo from the 2017 IATA Annual General Meeting, de Juniac called for faster progress on the digitalization of the supply chain and more effective use of data to drive improvements in operational quality in four key areas: the e-air waybill (e-AWB); adoption of Cargo XML; smart data sharing; and use of performance data to drive quality improvements.

He also advocated for modernization of air cargo facilities. “The e-commerce world is looking for fully automated high-rack warehouses, with autonomous green vehicles navigating through the facility, and employees equipped with artificial intelligence and augmented-reality tools,” de Juniac said. “The average cargo warehouse today is an impressive sight. But there is a huge gap to fill.”

“The problem is not technology,” he was quick to add. “The problem is the speed to market. It’s exceptionally tough to drive change in a global industry with a huge number of stakeholders where safety is a top priority. But it is not mission impossible. I challenge stakeholders to find ways to drive critical change at the speed our customers expect.”

de Juniac also urged governments to ensure that global standards are consistently implemented and enforced when necessary, citing lithium batteries as an example. “Global standards are being ignored by rogue shippers. And governments are not enforcing the rules. In some cases, we see more effort going into stopping counterfeit production of Louis Vuitton bags than lithium batteries. Both need attention. But lithium batteries are a safety risk,” he said.

Finally, he warned about the dangers of protectionist policies worldwide, including trade frictions, tariffs, Brexit and anti-globalization rhetoric. “We need to be a strong voice reminding governments that the work of aviation — including air cargo — is critically important,” he said. “There are no long-term winners from trade wars or protectionist measures.”

The need to keep the world trading aligns with the theme of this week’s WCS — Enabling Global Trade, de Juniac concluded. “This is an integral part of why we call aviation the Business of Freedom. And nothing should stand in the way of air cargo delivering its unique contribution to the prosperity of our world.”

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