In aviation the letters spoken
as a word reporting atmospheric conditions is WOXOF.
"Weather: Overcast, Ceiling Obscured,
Visibility Zero in Fog."
Pronounced like it looks: "WOXOF,"
when spoken most often gets the same response from everyone, especially
pilots: “you're not getting me up in that.”
In 2021 as the year progresses and Spring
begins, are the universal questions we seem to be asking air cargo people.
Some of what is happening or is likely to occur gets lost in the daily
fog of shouldering the huge responsibility of our time, delivering the
So here for air cargo comes that question
again: WOXOF-“Where Are We Now?”
FT talked to several disciplines of our
business all over the world. Here are the latest responses.
It is finally starting to look like folks
are seeing a bit clearer with 2021 taking shape as a year of gradual comeback.
Webinar & Survey Blitz
Get ready for a webinar blitz and surveys,
and even more uncertainty as air cargo attempts to get a grip or at least
a bit firmer hold on its developing activities in digitization, dealing
with the growth of e-commerce in every aspect of retail including grocery
delivery at home, and advanced pharma handling.
Of course Topic A in all of this is the
gigantum amount of paperwork our industry still generates every day, (reportedly
a sky full of B747s).
Hope Springs Eternal
But everyone who pays attention to these
things knows the passenger business traditionally has dictated where and
how much cargo the combination carriers will move.
There are signs that the runaway success
of United Airlines Cargo under Jan Krems and the superstar efforts at
Qatar Cargo by Guillaume Halleux and at Virgin Cargo by Dominic Kennedy
are but a few examples of excellence in air cargo. We are hopeful that
these results have delivered some impact to the passenger-minded airline
bosses to take a ‘greater than before’ view of air cargo.
Last we heard, it appears that the UA “Flying
Dutchman” has access to as many aircraft as he can fill up with
It is therefore reasonable to assume that,
not only has the playing field changed but also, recent widespread air
cargo demand has altered thought about what might be possible for air
cargo, past pandemic.
And let’s not hear any more talk about
serious constraints ahead for air cargo.
Cargo people need to get some respect everywhere,
especially without any dismissive “don’t look a gift horse
in the mouth” thinking by some companies.
We need some attitude for sure, but first
let’s get our numbers straight.
The Searchers In the U.S.
In the U.S. the Airforwarders Association,
the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, and
the Airports Council International-North America have combined forces
to send a survey
to a mailing list of 3,000, looking for answers.
Although the view is North American, if
they receive enough participation, the results might be interesting.
Meantime down on the ground where the rest
of the world operates we talked to some people asking:
Report on your air cargo business and outlook
ahead right now? What went well and what didn’t? What needs to be
The American Way
Tyler, President-American Airlines Cargo told FlyingTypers:
“Since the FDA issued the first Emergency
Authorization Use (EAU) for the vaccines in December, we’ve partnered
with our customers to move as much vaccine and vaccine-related material
as requested. With the Johnson & Johnson EAU approval by the FDA,
we expect our volume to increase in the second quarter with peak distribution
occurring in the 3rd and 4th quarters of this year.
“With the world’s largest network, we’re
doing our part to extend the reach of the integrators who are doing the
majority of the distribution effort, shipping to destinations they can’t
efficiently reach in the U.S. and beyond. With the strength of our network
combined with our CEIV-certified temperature- controlled product, we are
well-suited for the task and are proud to be a part of the efforts to
help our world recover.”
Voice of the Cans
“Vaccine transportation, from my perspective,”
Bob Rogers, Hong Kong-based ULD Care, getting right to the point told
FlyingTypers, “has two major angles:
One is the temperature management and the other is the tracking/monitoring
of the shipments.”
Whilst the earnest Mister Rogers of ULD
Care didn’t say much, he did indicate that advances in tracking
abilities are on the table with some breakthroughs expected sooner than
5,000 Reasons Plus 1
Why does Canadian air cargo in 2021 deserve
higher profile and some well- deserved attention at Air Canada?
Here are 5,000 reasons.
Jason Berry, the new Vice President Cargo
at Air Canada proclaims:
“Five thousand cargo only flights
and counting! “Thanks,” Jason said, “to everyone at
Air Canada and our partners around the world that continue working 24/7
to keep our customer’s cargo moving!
“We are making sure we take care of
customers that rely upon us for capacity in a time of challenges all around,”
We can also expect that export of those
shipments of Canadian lobsters favored everywhere have somehow gotten
into the mix.
“We have some freighters coming on
line and our drone program continues,” Jason concluded.
A Fond Farewell Vito
Vito Cerone, a man for all seasons, plus
a decent guy and a force for good to boot, who served as Vice President,
Cargo Sales & Commercial Strategy at Air Canada, buttoned up a 31
plus year career at the carrier, where he covered many bases including
leading the customer charge in air cargo.
Best of luck ahead, Vito!
Looking Out For #1
“Vaccine distribution may have perhaps
been an over hype considering that one has realized that the U.S., Europe,
Russia, China and India will be the main regions where the manufacturing
facilities are located and therefore have also featured the majority of
“It is important to keep in mind that
the first preferences may be given for local consumption,” said
Keshav Tanna, member, FIATA Board and CEO of Links Cargo Agency Forwarders
based in New Delhi.
Mr. Tanna, who counts several decades in
the freight forwarding business, also noted:
“The talked about need for thousands
of jumbo 747 vaccine freighters, as these shipments ramped up, now definitely
does not seem to be a reality.”
But with that comes a warning:
“Vaccine distribution, being complex
in nature,” Keshav said, “reveals that the small and medium
size forwarder might not have the same competitive edge that integrators
or the MNC forwarders may have, especially considering that the aforementioned
bigger companies have made significant investments in this regard.
“Not to mention that Governments too
are very involved in the workings of vaccine logistics, this being a life-threatening
“So looking at the current situation
from a an exclusively profitability perspective, might prove to be short
sighted,” Keshav Tanna said.
Wide Open Delivery
“We cannot overlook that there are
significant hinterland areas where vaccines must reach, particularly in
countries like China, Russia and India, where a large number of population
is regionalized away from the main city centers.
“This challenge requires significant
domestic distribution capabilities in terms of road transportation coordination
and regular operations under suitable conditions,” Keshav Tanna
Cargo Rates Bloodbath
“India,” Keshav said, “as
elsewhere has seen a significant drop in volumes, both inbound and outbound.
“With international passenger flights
coming to a virtual halt from one day to another, India, like many other
countries, relies mostly on freighter capacities.
“The drop in capacities in excess
of 30% or so has taken a direct toll on the airfreight rates.
“Rates have spiraled like never before
and there was a virtual blood bath in the market place. Initially rates
shot up by 300-400% and only certain high-end commodities like pharmaceuticals
could accommodate the increases.
“In time, as more freighter capacities
came into the market, there was some stabilization, but today rates are
still far from affordable,” Keshav said.
“Charter flight operators saw this
as an opportunity and there are quite a few private charter operators
now active in the market.”
Across The Bubbly Waves
“All this,” Keshav assures,
“had an immediate and direct impact on ocean freight.
“Rightly or wrongly, ocean too went
out of control and with virtually no affordable inventory available; the
India trade took a hit like never before with many a small business forced
to shut down their international trade.”
Time Will Tell If The Goose Lives
“So for many, with air cargo unaffordable
and ocean freight with no affordable inventory, time will tell if this
situation has killed the goose that lays the golden egg?
“Only time will tell.
“Something, needless to say, has not
been right!” Keshav declared.
“E-commerce is always rising at rates
like never before and COVID spring boarded it to another level.
“Lockdowns and work from home conditions
have led to a boost in online shopping, but can airfreight survive only
on that and certain high-end commodities, is the question?
“No doubt, air cargo is a very volatile
commodity but trade needs sustainability and we are a far cry away from
it as yet.
“Of course the world is still not
an ideal place and with many a lockdown still in place, we can only keep
our fingers crossed going ahead,” Keshav Tanna concluded.
Control Towers Above All
date we are proud to have flown approximately 10 million doses and are
more committed than ever to providing reliable air cargo options for critical
shipments,” declared Jan Krems, President United Cargo.
“At United, we believe the wide distribution
of a vaccine is the key to reopening global economies and are proud to
play our part in that process.
“The creation of a company-wide COVID
Vaccine Readiness Task Force here has resulted in our ability to implement
special handling procedures, a special handling code, visibility throughout
the entire enterprise, and increased dry ice limitations – all handled
by United’s dedicated Vaccine Control Tower.
“Working with our customers enhances
our ability to react quickly to demand.
“The entire supply chain needs to
work together to help save lives and bring this health crisis to an end,”
Jan Krems concluded.
Atlanta From The Ground up
Do Airports Land In All Of This?
“"Not enough vaccines, now,"
is the phrase that comes to mind,” Elliott Paige, Airport Director,
Air Service Development at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
“This is not surprising as we are
requiring a ramp-up of a complex supply chain project in pharmaceutical
to be able to satisfy close to 7.8 billion people since this is a global
“Everyone in the cargo logistics sector
that I have engaged with is doing all they can to make sure vaccine shipments
move securely and fast.
“Most are the integrators since they
have closed-loop systems for track and trace plus control of every transport
segment from the supplier all the way to the medical practitioner holding
the syringe to your arm.
“We have been able to keep functioning
while keeping staff safe in the logistics sector.
“I believe that distribution is working
and will improve as more vaccines become available.
“The authorization of the Johnson
& Johnson single-dose, COVID-19 vaccine is great news.
“It's valuable, especially to countries
in the Global South that need a vaccine that does not require storage
in ultracold temperatures.
“It makes it easier to get more people
globally vaccinated and pushes us to herd immunity.
“There is no other way to solve COVID-19,
other than a global approach.”
The Long Strange Journey 2020-21
“ATL had a reasonably good year in
2020 for cargo,” Elliott said.
“We were down only 6.27% taking us
to 639,276 metric tons.
“In May 2020, we were expecting a
20% fall in cargo, so we are ecstatic with the demand for air cargo service
“Capacity is catching up so much we
are seeing a surge of flights in January and February 2021.
“We are juggling space, but doing
our best to accommodate anyone who wants to fly into ATL.
“Here are some points in terms of
the outlook for ATL:
• E-commerce will continue to
grow in leaps and bounds as online orders penetrate deeper as people in
lockdowns order from home.
• ATL will continue to see an
increase in PPE shipments, including from passenger planes flying cargo
in the belly of planes and also on seats.
• Airlines like DL are shedding
older widebodies like 767s to reduce the cost of assets, with many being
purchased by Amazon Air as they expand service.
• Additional flights will provide
more employment, 75 people more per flight, which means we are having
a greater positive economic impact on our community.”
What Worked & What Didn’t?
“From my answer above, we see that
cargo volumes went well.
“Maybe too well.
“We have an RFP out now for a Modern
Air Cargo Terminal to be able to handle e-commerce, perishables including
pharmaceuticals, live animals, plus servicing our regional industries
like aerospace, and automotive sectors.
“We extended the deadline for responses
to early June 2021.
“I wish we had put that RFP on the
road five years ago. Perhaps by now, we would have had some space to accommodate
the large demand for cargo ground handling service that we are receiving
these days,” Elliott said.
Beware The Paperwork Jungle
“Cargo is one of the few sectors that
still likes to hang on to paper,” Elliott said exhaling.
“It's the one industry that still
wants to do things the old fashion way, despite the availability of technology.
“This attitude towards modernizing
“If Atlanta Airport and other major
airports had implemented complete Airport Cargo Community Systems in 2019
when we launched, we would be in a much better place in terms of efficiency.
“I would worry less about our ability
to handle the sharp growth of cargo we have seen in the last few months.
“All stakeholders must stop making
excuses and adopt digital cargo.
“Besides, we will have no choice in
a few months because of TSA's implementation of the requirement for 100%
screening of air shipments on all-cargo aircraft.
“The deadline is June 30 as issued
by members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“The best solution to achieve this
is through implementing digital cargo technology like Airport Cargo Community
System,” Elliott Paige concluded.
Know Your Priorities
So with thanks to this diverse and interesting
group of transportation leaders, who despite their focus elsewhere 24/7,
took time to share their experiences and outlook, we close by going back
to our WOXOF reference at the top here.
WOXOF has an opposite.
The letters CAVU signify “Ceiling
And Visibility Unlimited”.
Both aviation terms apply to our current
situation in air cargo and maybe even can point the way ahead because
each can also be viewed here to define priorities.
Right now air cargo is positioned to make
some decisions about where we will land in the future.
Stand & Deliver
The endless stream of information that we
are bombarded with 24/7 must be sifted through carefully.
Organized cargo like IATA, FIATA and the
rest, including those companies and enterprises that organize trade shows,
webinars, podcasts and bow tie award parties should also come forward
and deliver some meaningful platforms for dialogue that truly advance
We cannot afford to miss this opportunity
during a time unlike any other, when air cargo is indeed sitting on top
of the world.
Let’s not allow ourselves to get stuck
in a situation that is either WOXOF or CAVU.
Let’s build with the purpose of creating
a predictable environment in all of air cargo so we can prosper in a vital,
important industry that the world now recognizes as the way to ship from
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