Routes conference brings focus to cargo

After a frank keynote address about where the cargo industry stands in the closing months of 2011 and what industry players must do to ensure profitability moving forward, Des Vertannes, the International Air Transport Association’s global head of cargo, surrendered the floor to moderator Michael Webber of Webber Cargo.

Webber started off the three panel sessions comprising the Air Cargo Routes Stream at the World Routes Conference in Berlin with a bit of a warning. “The only thing I will say — based on experience, not on any one in the room — is I do ask that we not have any speeches from the floor,” he reminded the 50 or so assembled cargo executives in the audience.

He shouldn’t have worried; what transpired was three hours of enlightening discussion about the industry, with the panelists leading the way, providing plenty of opportunity for thoughtful discourse with the audience.

The proceedings felt like an informal chat, with the interviewees seated in chairs on the stage and only a solitary PowerPoint presentation in sight (that belonged to David Hoppin, who provided a succinct introduction to the industry).

The panel sessions could, in general be boiled down, to one idea: education — educating the public about what air cargo is, educating carriers and airports about the importance of cargo. In the last panel of the day, Christa Soltau of Budapest Airport talked about teaching the world about airfreight and “bringing up the importance of cargo,” she said.

“In my opinion, we are all sitting in the wrong panel. We should be sitting in the other panels to educate our colleagues from the airports,” she added, referencing the other talks happening on Sunday at the conference.

Along with Franz Van Hessen of Cologne Bonn Airport and Shahari Sulaiman of MASkargo, Soltau talked about how an airport develops a lasting relationship with a cargo carrier. It’s all about providing information to customers about what is happening in the area, she said.

The first step to building a successful cargo operation, she said, is to have representatives from carriers work together with airport executives and government regulators.

Ram Menen of Emirates Airlines — along with Lise-Marie Turpin of Air Canada Cargo and Chris Mangos of  the Miami-Dade Aviation Department — talked about bringing cargo to the forefront in the opening panel. Passenger services are glamorous, but airports, such as Miami-Dade, have known for a long time that there’s money in cargo operations.

Regarding route development, the panelists allowed that new airline services aren’t created to solely service cargo — passenger services are still the main driver for airlines — but the added benefit of cargo has, for instance, helped convince Air Canada executives to choose where to expand, Turpin said.

Stephen Verhasselt of Liege Airport began his panel by explaining that Liege is a cargo-minded airport that switches around the cargo-passenger outlook of many airports. While focusing on generating shareholder value, and with a little help from the government, Verhasselt said Liege is driving business in the region through its focus on cargo.

Jim Owens of UPS Air Cargo gave his thoughts regarding airport operators trying to build up their cargo presence. The panelists — among them, Tatyana Arslanova of AirBridgeCargo Airlines — talked about the process of airports pursuing cargo airlines and carriers searching for new airports.

Many of the attendees seemed to come away from the cargo stream with new ideas and new ways to think about old problems. If given a wider audience — specifically, the delegates at the conference that came to Berlin to talk solely about passenger services — the thoughts presented in these panels might help educate a wider sector of the aviation industry about the challenges and benefits of airfreight.

Click here to see our video interviews from the conference.

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