'Speed-dating', a refreshed FIATA and a newly emboldened air cargo industry
26 December 2023
The market may be challenging; the mood for 2024 muted – but there is a breath of fresh air running through the air cargo industry.
The new ACE event, held this week in Abu Dhabi, was rare for an air cargo conference: it attracted forwarders – the missing but crucial link from most shows – and focused heavily on networking.
‘Speed-dating’ sessions ensured delegates enjoyed a series of pre-booked face-to-face meetings. More conferences should do this; picking up new contacts, and welcoming old ones, is infinitely more useful than yet another sponsored, hand-wringing speech about digitisation.
But the event also showcased a refreshed FIATA, a process under way since the appointment of Stéphane Graber as director general in 2019, and now also under the oversight of the highly experienced Turkish forwarder Turgut Erkeskin, who was appointed president in October. Together with the also highly experienced Glyn Hughes, director general of TIACA, the pair showed that associations, which often appear divorced from industry, can be relevant, instructive and useful for the members they serve.
The distinct strength and beneficial nature of these two associations stands in stark contrast to the increasingly lacklustre and irrelevant IATA, under the destructive tenure of Willie Walsh. It no longer seems to have relevance in air cargo; it does not participate in, let alone apparently support, the industry it is duty-bound to serve.
Happily, however, IATA is no longer needed. TIACA and FIATA easily fill the gap, and make good bedfellows for raising standards in air freight and the wider industry.
The recent squall that hit TIACA must surely blow over, leaving behind stress-tested and proven strong governance. The impressive list of board members – which under the steady helm of Mr Hughes and Steven Polmans, are clearly not simply there to boost their careers – can easily weather the mini-drama and go back to the good they have been doing, whether its forging relationships across the supply chain, or crucial initiatives like its BlueSky programme.
TIACA must not, as it has done under previous iterations, collapse into an existential crisis. The association is not only necessary for the industry, but it does good: especially in the absence of IATA. This should not be overshadowed.
It seems apt that a refreshing conference, with refreshed speakers, was set against the backdrop of Abu Dhabi, an ambitious logistics hub that appears to be coming out from the shadows of its more burly neighbour, Dubai.
And host Etihad, while happily celebrating its 20th birthday, is also still in infancy compared with its global competitors. It too has seen some change, starting with the 2017 exit of the divisive James Hogan, and more recently its change in ownership, along with a growing number of other logistics-critical Abu Dhabi businesses under the umbrella of investment fund ADQ. Even the shiny, calm new airport terminal heralds a new-looking future for the carrier and its compatriots.
While ACE perhaps allowed some of its speakers a little too much marketing time, it also introduced start-ups, new initiatives – and enthusiasm from a generally younger crowd, which contained noticeably more women than is usual at an air cargo event.
2023 and all its weakness is bowing out. Let’s look forward, instead, to a newly strong and emboldened industry, led by TIACA and FIATA. A soft market is exactly the time to fix the roof and give the industry a new lick of paint – which appears now to be underway.