Change is a strange entity. It can be destructive and defeating, or it can also be energising and empowering. Sometimes it happens for no apparent reason and other times there is a clear root cause behind it. Having come from the (IATA) World Cargo Symposium only a few short weeks back, I have time to reflect on what was different about this year’s event where change was clearly sparkling in the air like a frozen winter mist. This time the impulse for change came from powerful forces beyond the control of the air cargo industry – global security concerns and economic turbulence.Not entirely new stuff.
But what is new this time, is how the industry has reacted and the change that has resulted – and it’s a welcome change. The spirit and deed of cooperation, collaboration and focused strategies for dealing with the multifaceted challenges that threaten to strangle the life out of the air cargo supply chain, are clear. While it’s tempting to dismiss much of the talk as simply that, to do so would be unnecessarily cynical and would denigrate the hard work that has gone into forging this new cooperative era. Yes it is the Global Air Cargo Advisory Group – aka, GACAG – I’m thinking of.
While the group has already met with a number of successes, including smoothing over relations between industry associations with what seemed like very different priorities, achieving rock solid consensus on an industry vision, to opening new clear channels of communication with US government security and customs entities that have an unduly great influence over the global industry. E-freight will certainly be a bigger challenge to demonstrate success any time soon, although one also senses the tide is changing and this new cooperative environment – particularly between forwarders and carriers – will surely give the very necessary initiative a sharp, swift kick in the butt.
But why did it take so long to get here? Difficult to answer, but the likely response is simply falling victim to inertia – each segment had its own association, its own goals and aspirations and hence it was simply easier to roll along with the status quo. This new spirit of forging a more successful industry together, rather than the ‘sink or swim’ on your own, is also evident in the glasnost that seems to have taken firm hold in Geneva. When Des Vertannes first came onboard as IATA’s cargo head the industry, especially the freight forwarders, cheered. I remember him telling me soon after he came onboard that e-freight would never, ever again be called ‘IATA e-freight’. And now, the World Cargo Symposium has similarly shed its IATA prefix.
These may be small gestures, but they actually speak volumes about the change in attitude taking place within the industry and within IATA specifically in this case. If doubts remain, consider this: For the first time in the history of the (IATA) World Cargo Symposium (barring Rome, but that doesn’t count for obvious reasons) the director general made an in-person appearance. Although his Cathay-lineage automatically imbues him with a taste for cargo, Tony Tyler clearly would have none of the video-taped nonsense of the past. Cargo is clearly rising on the agenda, all
over the world.