The air cargo sector bucks the trend as COVID-19-related uncertainty creates apprehension in the aviation industry. Yet Africa remains at the dismal 2% of global air cargo figures. Glyn Hughes, Director General of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), explains how Africa can achieve substantial and sustainable air cargo increase, in this fresh exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal.
Q: You became the Director General of TIACA a year ago when the industry was expecting the initial recovery from COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, what has been your major pre-occupation so far?
A: It’s certainly been nonstop. TIACA has gone through a significant transformation these past couple of years to create an agile organization with programs aligned to member and industry priorities. We have been supporting the industry during COVID with guidance material, industry intelligence and supportive programs such as training and sustainability tools. We have also used the collective voice of the association in dialogue with regulator sensuring air cargo needs are being addressed wherever problems exist.
Q: TIACA in 2021 launched an initiative to attract members from least developed countries, what progress has been recorded in this regard?
A: There are two great strengths of the TIACA membership community, firstly it represents the entire supply-chain with all industry sectors represented and secondly it’s global with members from all regions. However, the Board felt that we were perhaps a little under-represented in developing nations and considering those countries can be huge beneficiaries of global air cargo connectivity we wanted to enhance our outreach. It’s only recently been launched but we are pleased to have an increased number of initial enquiries from the listed States.
Q: Poor air cargo infrastructure and insecurity especially in last-mile deliveries remain a challenge especially in developing regions like Africa, what could TIACA do to encourage improvements in this aspect?
A: A great question as this is where we have put a lot of focus recently. We are very pleased to be working with AFRAA and have identified a number of key areas where we can work collaboratively to try and improve African infrastructure, training and hopefully connectivity. We can also use our global relationships with international organizations to try and secure support from those key bodies.
Q: How would you describe TIACA’s role in the management and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and essential cargo so far since the pandemic began?
A: Very early on we recognized there would be a need for industry guidance material considering COVID-19 vaccine distribution would need to touch all corners of the planet and the number of different vaccines approved having slightly different handling requirements it was imperative the industry had support and tools.
TIACA partnered with PHARMA.AERO, a leading association dealing with pharmaceutical handling and with members comprised of manufacturers, airlines and others it has unrivalled expertise in this area. We jointly produced guidance material, informational webinars and then issued a monthly newsletter providing the latest news impacting vaccine approvals, orders, deliveries and what’s new.
Q: There are worries that cargo aircraft come into many parts of Africa full and depart empty, how do you think Africa could develop the critical mass of air cargo to feed intra-Africa and international cargo airlines?
A: Africa accounts for 15% of the global population yet only about 2% of air cargo volumes which is sadly below what one could expect. The continent has much to offer but the cost environment is quite high with taxes and associated border complexities and sadly the infrastructure is also lacking in certain areas such as cold chain.
On the positive side the continent has a large population of young technically connected entrepreneurs and consumers, so ecommerce presents a big opportunity. From an economic perspective the flower and fresh produce markets remain strong and with automotive and other industries growing we can hope for future export growth but inter-state collaboration is key, acceleration of a common trade area would be highly beneficial and simplified air space agreements would aid many land locked countries.
Q: What is your expectation on the impact of cargo in Africa underthe African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) launched in January?
A: Research indicates that free trade agreements boost economic activity which in turn will benefit air cargo volumes, but like many such agreements success comes from implementation not just ratification of the agreement.
Q: How is TIACA responding to the climate challenges?
A: This is one of the key priorities established by the Board. TIACA runs an annual survey to assess the status of industry action which we then use to produce the annual sustainability report. We recently produced a sustainability Roadmap which highlights a number of specific actions which organizations can take to address 8 key sustainability areas, including reducing our environmental impact.
Q: What is your projection for 2022 in terms of aviation industry recovery and air cargo growth and innovation as well as cargo safety and security?
A: On a positive note, I think air cargo demand will continue to show solid growth with global economic prospects remaining strong, but sadly I think many of the challenges experienced in the past 12 months will remain, namely, the stress on the system caused by lack of capacity and reduced global connectivity. We can also expect to see the labor challenges and truck driver shortages to remain. With some countries applying a zero-tolerance to COVID cases we can also expect supply chain disruptions caused by facilities perhaps closing at short notice.
Innovation will continue to play a big role in addressing some of these challenges and Safety and Security will remain the top industry focus, with safety related to shipping lithium batteries remaining under the spotlight. Governments need to do more to eradicate the growing number of counterfeit lithium batteries being smuggled on all modes of transport.
Q: The Innovation Journey is part of the focus of TIACA’s Executive Summit in March in San Francisco, US; could you highlight how the cargo industry could benefit from the future innovations?
A: For many years the air cargo industry lacked sufficient focus on innovation but in the last two years we have seen many big leaps forward as congestion, capacity challenges, labor shortages, new regulations and other factors have forced all supply chain stakeholders to look at doing things differently.
The Innovation journey we shall run in San Francisco promises to be an amazing program where we take it on the road and visit some world class leading innovators working on some amazing next generation solutions to expose the participants to new world thinking. The realms of possibilities extend beyond that we can think of alone.
Q: Where do you wish to see improvements in the African cargo value-chain?
A: Collaboration and cooperation amongst States to provide an efficient, simplified and low-cost infrastructure and operating environment. Then I would encourage a program which can globally showcase all that is great about Africa today, its energy, its creativity, its art, its fresh produce, its manufacturing enhancements and most of all its people. Show the world that Africa is open for business.
Q: As innovations emerge in the air cargo sector, how do you think training and transfer of knowledge can be facilitated especially from more advanced cargo markets?
A: This is another area where the last two years under COVID-19 has caused great change. Historically we thought of training as sitting in a classroom for a number of days. But no longer. Now training is much more portable, on demand, modular based, virtual and flexible. This should enable greater knowledge transfer and will build a more expert work force, leading to enhanced engagement and long-term career development.