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Family Aid 2020
   Vol. 22 No. 42
Wednesday November 29, 2023

TIACA's Weather Not Grey At All

Brussels TIACA

     Some of us associate the city of Brussels with the idea of grey skies, bureaucracy and endless negotiations – remember the jokes about size of cucumbers? My perception, having lived in Brussels ten years, is that prejudice is much more persistent than reality. As I said several times, I had a great time in Brussels recently at the FIATA World Congress and I am even considering coming back for good. No wonder I was more than happy to return for the TIACA’s Executive Summit, which truly attracted the who’s who of global Air Cargo to the Belgian capital.
     The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) announced “that its Executive Summit was a soaring success, succeeding in its mission to bring the global air cargo industry together to discuss, debate and network. The event was held in Brussels, Belgium and was hosted by Brussels Airport Company” between Nov 6th and Nov 8th. In their own words, this is what delegates and guest were expecting: “TIACA is the unique international not-for-profit association representing and uniting all parts of the air cargo industry: shippers, forwarders, ground handlers, airports, airlines, manufacturers, IT providers, etc. TIACA’s vision is a safe, profitable and united air cargo industry that embraces modern technologies and practices to sustainably and fairly serve trade and social development worldwide. TIACA’s mission is to support, lead and unite the industry to achieve that vision; promote and encourage business, social, and technological innovation; protect the interests of its members with one voice on common interests; disseminate and enhance knowledge amongst members and the air cargo industry.”
     Precisely on Nov 8th Forum Europe and Euronews organised their International AI Summit in Brussels. Artificial Intelligence being on everyone’s mouth in this day and age, the concept was also often mentioned at TIACA’s Summit, but there was so much more! It was an intense event: lots of information, concepts, proposals, but also time to celebrate and meet old friends and make new, interesting connections. My Linkedin profile exploded, and I did nothing in particular to ignite such reaction. I wonder whether this happened also to those who participated in the International AI Summit. Kudos to TIACA for their absolutely immaculate and captivating arrangement. As Glyn Hughes mentioned during the opening, he felt indebted to TIACA’s superb team. He was right: you perceived a seamless line that lead you flawlessly through the conference. Having organised similar reunions in the past, I know pretty well what that means: somebody has worked very hard and efficiently behind the scenes. Congratulations: it was just perfect!
     As TIACA puts it: “The event held in the iconic Skyhall venue at Brussels Airport, brought together over 300 delegates from across the industry to discuss issues that affect the global air cargo community. Topics such as trade and business challenges, airports, regulatory challenges, creating new opportunities, drones, digital innovation, workforce developments, precious cargo, sustainability and the air cargo outlook were some of the topics discussed. The Executive Summit is a bi-annual conference that is designed to address specific issues that impact the industry on a global level that TIACA can then incorporate into [its] overall work on behalf of the industry. This year [TIACA] extended further outreach to university students and next generation leaders to ensure they too have a say in the industry’s future.”
     The conference started with a graceful show inspired by Amelia Earhart: the athlete-artist literally flew above the stage with astonishing elegance and lightness, by holding herself on to a rope made of colourful, sleek textile, with suggestive music playing in the background. This feeling of levity and confidence was present through the entire event, despite the number of speakers and moderators who came to, and went from the very same stage during the debates.
     Glyn Hughes introduced the speakers, revealed the upcoming Hall of Fame celebration and dared mention the lack of gender balance among the inductees: “please look carefully around you in the future”, he maintained, implying that there is clearly no shortage of talent among women.
     Steven Polmans, chairman of TIACA, welcomed the participants mentioning the “paramount importance of logistics” and recalling that Brussels airport took a principal role in transporting the vaccines throughout the pandemic. However, the “momentary opportunity to shine” of air cargo hit the wall as the “momentum has faded.” There is a strong need for collaboration: digitalisation is imperative for business: “work closely with your neighbours”, and “sustainability is paramount, there is no hiding from it.” These were all catchphrases captured in the very first half hour of meeting. The only way to look into the future for the industry is to be mindful of these unavoidable conditions, Polmans concluded, mentioning the 1987 Bundtland Commission’s definition of sustainability: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The Chairman continued stating that there is an expected 4% drop in air cargo this year and there is also a growing sentiment against aviation in general. “There are no solitary solutions to many of the challenges threatening our industry”, he aptly observed. During his opening remarks, Steven Polmans also announced that he would go for a third term as chair, being humbled and grateful for the confidence shown by the association. The applause following also embraced the outgoing Vice-chairman, Sanjeev Gadhia.

Arnaud Feist, Lydia Peeters

     Brussels Airport CEO Arnaud Feist then took the floor for his own welcome on behalf of the airport, which graciously hosted TIACA’s gathering. COVID vaccines, the importance of sustainability to ensure the future of air cargo were mentioned again, together with a thankful note to the neighbouring structure of NATO, which provided Brussels with sustainable fuels.
     The Minster of Mobility Lydia Peeters stresses the crucial importance of air cargo for logistics in general and Brussels Airport in particular, pharma and vaccines obviously taking front stage. The minister also noted that Brussels is the second most important logistics hub in Flanders, after the port of Antwerp’s conglomerate of activities. “As Minister my ambition is to send Flanders to number one for sustainable freight transport,” she said, with a project called VIAVIA, which is also in line with the declared EU objectives. This concluded the introductory part, giving all participants a good idea of the main issues on the table.
     In this my first article about TIACA’s event I shall try to cover two other parts of the multifaceted assembly by mentioning some statements collected at the Industry leaders’ roundtable and the more specific IT and technology-focussed debate, which has become de facto the main object of interest in the deliberations of this sector.

Yossi Shoukroun, Wilson Kwong, Turhan Ozen, Glyn Hughes, Geert Aerts, Marco Tafuro

     In the former one, the panel of industry leaders discussed the current business environment and the future opportunities of the air cargo industry and ventured to explore future perspectives on the last part of 2023 and beyond. A patched picture emerged from the discussion: customers’ resistance appeared to have remained strong during the pandemic, considering clients did all not run away in different directions, but new avenues surfaced on their horizon and this contributed to building a landscape of increasing uncertainty. Mr. Turhan Ozen, Chief Cargo Office, Turkish Airlines mentioned the irreplaceable role of air cargo during the earthquake in Turkey: the huge area affected could receive supplies by air only for a long period. Glyn Hughes observed that certain elements are constant in different geopolitical areas, save in case of emergency, when the urgency prevails on any other economic evaluation. Looking from inside the business, it was asked whether the attention to customers’ needs is sufficient in the industry; on another tone which arrangements could appear stronger to attract the younger generation to the industry, as this remains a challenging mission for everybody. Opening the discussion to the audience, the idea of combining sea freight and airfreight surfaced as a possible solution suited to meet customers’ evolving requirements.
     Regarding 2024, the outlook was not described as bright, but it was noted by Turkish that air cargo would be the first sector to start bouncing back, probably as early as the end of 2023. Mr. Marco Tafuro of UPS also elaborated on healthcare logistics, as well with many others in the room. This was surely the one item that emerged to be the real stronghold of Brussels Airport, also thanks to the sizeable investments that had been made. The Head of Cargo at Brussels airport, Geert Aerts, stylistically asked himself: “What sets us apart from the rest?” Investing in specialisation appeared as the key factor in his reply: reliability in live animals, perishables, pharma, innovative fuels, etc. these investments were noted as parts of the winning recipe. Aerts also noted that: “As a leading organisation within the Stargate EU Green Deal initiative, Brussels Airport has recently successfully completed its BlueSky assessment. With this first TIACA BlueSky community program, Brussels Airport continues to pioneer, in collaboration with our tightly knit Brucargo community, towards a more sustainable cargo Industry.”
     As it was mentioned at this point for the first time, we might as well spend a couple of words about the Blue Sky Initiative and its community, which was launched also with the cooperation of Air Cargo Belgium. Best to resort to TIACA’s own words to describe the successful initiative: “The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), Air Cargo Belgium and Brussels Airport formally announced the first TIACA BlueSky community program. The TIACA BlueSky program, launched in 2022, is the air cargo and logistics industry’s only program designed to provide individual companies with a verified independent assessment of their sustainability credentials. Air Cargo Belgium and Brussels Airport Company have established a sponsorship fund which will support 15 members with their BlueSky assessment by co-sharing their fees into the globally first TIACA BlueSky community program. Not only will this deliver the individual assessment to the members, more importantly this initiative will also provide a community report outlining Air Cargo Belgium’s shared sustainability objectives.”
     The second part of the debate focussed principally on the evolution of e-commerce. It was observed that we are moving from a pre-Covid situation and greater importance is now assigned to hubs, e.g. looking at what happens in Liège. Production is moving away from China, whilst China is a becoming rapidly a new, big consumer. Mr. Tafuro noted that the USA is running at full speed and UPS is expecting to ramp up its staff in view of the upcoming congested weeks before the winter holidays, but in Europe he said staff was probably sufficient to meet the needs of the peak season after "brown Friday". Some speakers concurred on the expectation that the 2nd part of 2024 was to be seen as positive; Mr. Tafuro agreed in parts, but Geert Aerts was admittedly less optimistic... “At best it will be more or less the same, he said, save the USA will probably grow faster.”
     Let me now take a big leap into the afternoon’s session on digital innovation. I expect some could criticise this totally unorthodox way of reading the TIACA discussions, but in my understanding most of the meat on the table was about two adjectives: Digital and Sustainable, and how these two instances combined could influence the development of the sector in the near future.
     So I might as well give you the other section here, even though this is not the order chosen by the organisers. The panel on digital innovation was announced on the programme with these words: “Innovation is the lifeblood of any industry and with increasing customer expectations coupled with a more complex operating environment the air cargo industry needs to embrace and accelerate digital solutions.”

James Coombes, Simson Demmer, Sarah Van Gelder, Michelle Lawrence, Stephane Noll, Freek De Witte

     No doubt on the competency of the participants, this was a complex panel where there was no one-size-fits-all feeling and the debate was conducted on a thin line, suggesting strong interests exist in this area. It all started with relatively difficult questions: is it ethical for data to be provided to software and digital entities? Does a software company provide added value, is this approach just monetising data? Who is actually profiting of the data?
     It was observed that nobody works for free and data is the new “oil & gas”, with the additional benefit that with regard to data the more you share it, the richer it gets . . . On another tone, individual data is overestimated whilst aggregate data is underestimated. It was also observed that there is a huge responsibility on aggregated data. Some observed that there is a need of strict governance and the anonymization of data is imperative. It was also registered that self-governing policies do not always work, despite many voices in the sector faring in that direction. There is an issue in the nature of data, and the issue is similar to Facebook’s with private persons’ data. Data is anyway shared today, said Stéphane Noll, as it was exposed during the Air Cargo outlook given by WorldACD, which presented route prices, or Xeneta which showed data on volumes during the Ocean and Air session.
     It was also observed that there must be an incentive for data to be provided and the right to get the data should be earned one way or another and not taken for granted. In the debate with participants from the audience it emerged that value added is what is required as an industry, so data ownership can represent an aspect of added value. New technology, including AI, requires adaptation and incentives, it takes a few years for the industry to adopt new technology, but there is an interest to actually get new technology adopted and in place soon, as services can be improved through new technology. New skillsets and a completely new human interaction are to be expected, but on the other hand critical thinking is not achieved yet by any machine learning equipment. In other words, completely replacing people in current jobs is not going to happen, trust relations are emotional and that human connection cannot be reproduced by a machine, at least this is what seemed to emerge from the discussion.
     Competition and cooperation function in a more complex manner today than in the past . . . for example, airports are both cooperating and competing with one another, depending on their geography. There are still siloes that are difficult to cross, to achieve better collaboration. Again the debate with the audience suggested that there still is an issue with the nature of data to be collected: lots of data is still on paper and this is a major obstacle to progress, the issue of competing standards in the data collection and transmission still exists, the one and only standard for everybody remains a dream . . . The Brucargo community was acclaimed as being a really surprising and positive experience. Sarah van Gelder, director of products at Nallian, observed that each stakeholder has its own degree of digital maturity, which is an important element to factor in. Another question came to the panel underlining the importance of the human factor; the discussion then overflowed onto the issue of demographics and digital competency. “I don’t think it is a question of age” was strongly observed by another panellist at the end.
     What we can make of this debate? The first thing coming to mind is that TIACA offers a relaxed, far reaching platform for professionals to discuss their concerns with little or no limitation, the climate of the discussion was rich in lights and shadows, surely in line with the changing weather of Brussels, which gave us – in just two and half days – the full list of phenomena, with the only exception of frost and snow, really too early for the season.
     Sitting at the delegates’ tables, there surely was no way to get bored or drowsy. Perhaps too involved at certain points, but definitely engaged, the audience followed the complex debate with complete attention. It must be noted this was a discussion for informed professionals indeed: if you had nothing to do with air cargo or logistics in general you would probably only just follow the progress of the deliberations. TIACA is indeed an association for expert members and that was clear each step of the way.
     This being said, it was not just work and debate: networking was, as is tradition in TIACA, a very important part of the attraction. I promise I would give you more on this point in the next numbers and tell you more about the evening, which was very pleasant. We took airport buses provided by our hosts to reach the St. Gery’s Hall, i.e. the place in the centre of Brussels, where we were tempted by the great Belgian food on display, to be savoured with a selection of beverages, amongst which Belgian beer was of course l’invitée d’honneur.
Marco L. Sorgetti

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