IATA WCS 2023 review: The capital of cargo

Associations Europe
Istanbul has a rich history as a centre of commerce and trade. It was the perfect city to host the 16th IATA World Cargo Symposium from 25-27 April.

Pictured: Willie Walsh and Mehmet Tefvik Nene at the opening plenary

Straddling two continents, Istanbul is a unique city which has fascinated visitors over the centuries. Napoleon Bonaparte is widely quoted as saying if the world was only one country, Istanbul would be its capital.

As an air cargo hub, Istanbul is of growing importance with the expansion of Turkish Cargo, moving from a small player to one of the biggest cargo airlines in little over a decade, and the opening of the SmartIST hub at the new Istanbul Airport.

Opening the show, Turhan Ozen, Chief Officer Cargo at Turkish Airlines, the host airline for the event, said the SmartIST hub has been equipped with state-of-the-art technology and autonomous systems, and built with the aim of being highly productive.

Highlighting Napoleon’s quote about Istanbul, Ozen ended his speech by saying, “Hopefully the world is more than one country with its richness. However, we are right here at the centre of the world where continents meet. We are full of history, culture, commerce and now full of aviation. We are now at the centre of the global air cargo industry.”

Brendan Sullivan, Global Head of Cargo at IATA said that we are in a different industry to the one pre-pandemic with higher revenues and yields. The world has learnt how critical supply chains are, and the contribution of air cargo to the bottom lines of airlines is more evident than ever.

He told the audience that air cargo is critically important, highlighting its role in the aftermath of the earthquakes which struck Turkey and Syria in February.

Sullivan said, “We are in an industry that saves lives, delivering aid and relief to those in need. We must continue to work together to ensure that air cargo remains a reliable and efficient means of providing support to those in need whilst simultaneously strengthening our global supply chains and contributing to the sustainable developments of our economies.”

Helping those in need
On 6 February, eastern Turkey and Syria were devastated with two enormous earthquakes. Tens of thousands of people died, hundreds of thousands were injured and millions have had their lives turned upside down.

When Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA sat down with Mehmet Tefvik Nene, Managing Director of Pegasus Airlines and Chair of the IATA Board of Governors, the industry’s response was a major talking point.

On the day of the earthquake, Nene was in the office by 6am and at that point, no one knew how devastating the earthquake was but it soon became clear that this was the earthquake of the century.

The authorities in Turkey quickly came together to support those in need and within a month, more than one million passengers had been carried both ways, free of charge, along with over half a million tonnes of produce.

Roads were closed due to snowstorms, raising questions about how were people and goods going to get to the region. A bridge was built between domestic and international airports to carry goods.

“We as cargo and passenger carriers demonstrated a good unity of the Turkish people and international support how we are going to relieve that pain and I wish from God that we never see such an incident again, not in our country or in the whole world. We have been to that location several times and it was devastating,” said Nene.

Support will be needed for years, and Nene took the time to praise Walsh, not only in his role at IATA but as a person, and the whole industry for their support.

“I think, as an airline industry, we showed unity and showed how we can bridge the needs. Thank you to cargo and passenger airlines who supported in this event,” he said.

Assisting in a crisis is what aviation does, as it showed during the pandemic. Nene praised the movement of vaccines, singling out Turkish Cargo for distributing the Chinese vaccine globally as far away as Brazil, calling the industry superheroes for saving lives.

Walsh said cargo was critical during the pandemic, with cargo revenue rising from around 14% to 40% of total airline revenue. Another stat was 14% of cargo shipped in 2021 flying in the passenger cabin.

Nene explained that there are 45 freighters in Turkey, which was nowhere near enough so he thanked the Turkish civil aviation authority, IATA and ICAO for making it possible to transport cargo in the passenger cabin.

Collaboration is key
To sum up the show, Sullivan was joined at the closing plenary by Andres Bianchi, CEO of LATAM Cargo and Chair of IATA’s Cargo Advisory Council.

The Istanbul show had the second best attendance in WCS history, welcoming 1,279 participants from 82 countries.

Bianchi believes great progress has been made in streamlining processes so the industry can move forward in the areas of safety, sustainability and digitalisation.

The industry is in a good position to push these areas with IATA taking a leadership role to make the industry collaborate.

Bianchi said, “If we want to deliver better digitally, getting all the stakeholders and using IATA as a vehicle, not only to work as an airline group but also to link with the other relevant entities to make things like ONE Record come alive is extremely important.”

Sustainability was a key topic, with Bianchi saying that the LATAM Airlines Group CEO made it a priority, even in the midst of Chapter 11 proceedings, when he made the commitments because it is a necessary destination.

Bianchi said, “When you look at technology, we need to look beyond the obvious to find solutions for sustainability issues. They go beyond CO2, CO2 is a must but things like the plastic work we have done, it is because we need to go beyond the typical things and go deep into our processes to find alternatives to be a more sustainable industry.”

Moving forward
Aviation has ambitious sustainability targets with sustainable aviation fuel making up a large proportion. Brandon Fried, Executive Director of the Airforwarders Association spoke to Helen Goury, Product Manager at Neste to find out more about what is being done.

Goury explained that SAF is made from renewable waste and residues, with Neste using used cooking oil and animal fats, which can cut emissions by up to 80%. IATA is targeting net zero by 2050, which will require SAF production to be ramped up.

Neste has opened a SAF plant in Singapore, increasing production 15 fold and 25% of its workforce is working on the research and development of SAF.

Fried raised his concerns about greenwashing, so he asked about transparency. Goury agreed it was a justified concern, saying questions need to be asked.

She said, “What is important is to understand as a seller and a buyer by asking questions, making sure you understand what is being bought and sold, and report accordingly.”

Going forward requires collaboration, with Goury saying, “Sustainability is not for sustainability experts, it is going to be embedded in your business and it is already being talked about so you need to discuss and understand what is behind the product.”

See you next year
The show ended by revealing that next year’s event will be held in Hong Kong from 12-14 March. Hong Kong International Airport is the world’s busiest cargo airport, handling five million tonnes a year, with the target of 10 million tonnes in 2035.

Tom Owen, Director of Cargo at Cathay Pacific, and Irene Lau, Assistant General Manager Aviation Logistics at Airport Authority Hong Kong were invited on stage to talk about Hong Kong as a cargo hub.

Saying Hong Kong is at the heart of air cargo in Asia, Owen said it plays a pivotal role for air cargo and logistics, serving as a gateway to mainland China and to the powerhouse of the Greater Bay Area (GBA), which is home to 70 million people across 11 cities and is the manufacturing base for many large brands.

He said, “Hong Kong is the super-connector to the GBA and our airport community boasts a world-class infrastructure that makes this possible. This has enabled us to retain our share and status this year as the world’s busiest air cargo hub despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic.”

Lau added, “Hong Kong is a vibrant city known for its world-class infrastructure, strategic location and entrepreneurial spirit. The city’s unique blend of eastern and western cultures, bustling streets and stunning skylines will definitely provide a memorable and inspiring backdrop for the symposium. We are confident that Hong Kong is a perfect setting for this flagship event.”

This article was published in the June issue of Air Logistics International, click here to read the digital edition and click here to subscribe.