Efficiency, safety and sustainability are the priorities, says IATA cargo chief

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With air cargo volumes are now firmly back to pre-pandemic levels, the challenge now is to ensure that growth is efficient, safe and aligned with achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, IATA’s global head of cargo, Brendan Sullivan told the World Cargo Symposium in Hong Kong on 12 March.

But thanks to the hard work of the industry, “the building blocks are in place to significantly accelerate progress in all these areas”, he said.

While digitalization has not happened as fast as any of us would have liked, he continued, progress is real: “Inefficient paper-based, manual processes are being replaced with digital solutions in all aspects of cargo operations from tracking to customs clearance.”

He called on Governments to consistently implement global standards, supply chain partners to collaborate to overcome shared challenges, and the entire industry to align to ensure a unified and effective approach.

Sullivan said that the IATA’s ONE Record standard is enabling efficient data exchange throughout the supply chain and the aim is for all IATA members to achieve ONE Record capability by January 2026, with Cathay Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo already having met this target. All major airline IT platform providers have pledged to attain ONE Record capability.

As for digitalization of customs and trade processes,  countries already implementing IATA’s digital standards include Brazil which has cut cargo release times from five days to just five hours, potentially reducing manual processing by up to 90%.

Meanwhile, the EU, UAE and Canada will adopt pre-loading advance cargo information systems by the end of 2024, the US having already adopted this back in 2019.

The updated IATA Interactive Cargo Guidance offers a unified framework for tracking devices to ensure the quality and accuracy of conditions for time and temperature-sensitive goods.

Last year the industry’s safety record reached new heights. Among the 38 million flights in 2023 there were 30 accidents, just one of which was fatal.  The air cargo industry would continue to put special emphasis on the handling of dangerous goods, and in particular lithium batteries, said Sullivan.

A test standard for fire retardant shipping containers is ready for approval and over 90 airlines are now sharing dangerous goods incident data through the IATA Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) program.

IATA has also published guidance was published for operators to recognize and mitigate the risks from inexperienced e-commerce shippers using the postal system.

An update to Annex 18 of the Chicago Convention clarifying responsibilities for the handling of dangerous goods and their effective regulation is now ready for global adoption by states.

IATA renewed and strengthened its partnership with ICAO to publish Dangerous Goods Regulations  in early 2024. DG AutoCheck is gaining industry traction in automating previously paper-based processes are recognized.

And there is no shortage of demand signals from airlines and shippers to use sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), Sullivan concluded: “The problem remains a shortage of supply. As we saw with the introduction of solar and wind generation for electricity, production incentives are the way forward. Japan is a good example. The government has put a 10% production mandate on fuel suppliers. Singapore has also recently taken steps to create a Sustainable Air Hub with a view to foster SAF production and use.

“The US is another with tax credits embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act that are resulting in increased production. We need more governments to follow these positive examples.”

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