Seoul, South Korea, is a modern, vibrant city, and Airports Council International has ranked Incheon Airport number one for the past seven years. Incheon is also home to one of the largest air cargo carriers in the world. Accordingly, Seoul was a natural choice for the recent 2014 International Air Cargo Forum of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA).
But that choice was made several years ago. Since then, the international air cargo industry has been through the wringer. Survivors have had to tighten belts while restricting travel expenses to only the most necessary trips. Subsequently, conferences in air cargo and across all industries have felt the impact.
Unfortunately, despite indications that the air cargo industry is beginning to claw its way out of its recessive doldrums, TIACA’s event in Seoul showed that we are not yet back to the days of crowded plenary sessions and halls crammed with people and exhibitors. But this apparent lag time in conference attendance, relative to industry rebound, is not a reason to begin a wholesale criticism of TIACA’s value and its future role serving the air cargo industry.
While planning conferences is indeed a critical role of a trade association, it is by no means the only important thing that associations do, nor does it represent the only value they provide.
For example, the Airforwarders Association joins with three other organizations to sponsor the annual AirCargo Conference – and we put a great deal of effort into ensuring its success as a forum for networking opportunities, for business promotion, and for developing a sense of industry direction and accomplishment. But, day by day, the AfA works on a variety of other levels to address the needs of freight forwarders in the United States, to be their voice and to act on their behalf in the places where critical decisions are made that can affect their businesses. As AfA’s membership grows, the organization remains involved in the myriad regulatory agencies throughout Washington. We are known as a force on Capitol Hill, where our involvement in several cargo-related coalitions continues to yield industry change.
TIACA, for its part, plays a role that is different from the AfA’s or from any regional organization. It serves as air cargo’s primary voice internationally – addressing issues that are critical to the industry’s future – and provides the wider industry with services that we all need. Its relationships with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Customs Organization and other global bodies advance the industry’s agenda in a way that national associations like the AfA simply cannot. In Doug Brittin, TIACA has a secretary general who not only can speak one-on-one to these organizations, bringing credibility and a sense of urgency to the industry’s agenda, but also can work as an honest broker to seek compromise on sensitive issues.
The AfA and its peers count on TIACA to provide a neutral backdrop representing all segments of the air cargo supply chain, where issues can be discussed candidly and productively. The global nature of its membership, both geographically and functionally, gives us an opportunity to have a seat at the international table, so that we can provide the U.S. forwarder perspective to airlines, ground handlers, airports, aircraft manufacturers and, most importantly, government regulators.
The past few years have been undeniably tough for air cargo as the industry struggled with high fuel prices, lower demand and modal shift. As volumes increase and the business improves, regional associations need to support TIACA as their global forum in dealing with advanced data requirements, additional security regimes and ill-conceived legislative initiatives, such as restrictive environmental taxes on air cargo and restricted night access to major airports essential to the commercial supply chain. Forwarders and their airline partners are depending on TIACA to work for harmonized regulations and policies between countries, so that air cargo continues to play its role in facilitating the speed of expedited air commerce.
Perhaps TIACA’s financial support should shift from a reliance primarily on conference revenue to one where regional forwarders, carriers and their respective groups jointly contribute to help sustain the organization, since its mission serves the common good. This can easily be accomplished by assuring that forwarding organizations and others continue to expand their presence at the TIACA table.
The most recent TIACA conference in Seoul may have been a disappointment to some who expected to see more exhibitors and attendees than in the past. But judging the venue as an indication that TIACA is faltering without considering the current economic climate would be a gross underestimation of the organization, its vital mission and all that it accomplishes for our industry.
Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association