United we stand and conquer all obstacles, or divided we fall

Safe and effective vaccine transport will obviously be a crucial task to watch out this year, as will air cargo supporting global economic activities. The industry will have to maximise freighter capacity and will certainly continue to use passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations, says Glyn Hughes, the newly appointed Director General of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA). In an exclusive conversation with Ritika Arora Bhola, the former IATA cargo chief elaborates about his new role, the air cargo industry’s best-laid plans to achieve the goal of transporting vaccines efficiently and fast, TIACA’s roles amid this challenging environment, and much more on the air cargo sector’s future projections.

Kindly elaborate on your new role as the first Director General of TIACA. How are you planning to establish and implement the association’s vision and objectives?

TIACA is a fantastic organisation that has been established since the early 1990s with the main objective to represent and support the entire air cargo value chain. The association serves a very important and crucial role as the air cargo industry has unique challenges and opportunities, particularly important during the current times.

I believe strongly in collaboration and exercising a united voice and look forward to executing the TIACA strategy. I am honoured to be appointed as the associations first Director General and look forward to working with the great team – a highly engaged Board, experts and dedicated membership.

Air cargo industry globally is going through testing times with COVID-19 vaccine distribution around the corner. Do you think the industry and its players will be able to take on this task of providing fast and safe deliveries while ensuring smooth and resilient supply chains?

The air cargo industry has been dealing with a variety of challenges since its inception over 110 years ago.  From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry stepped up and provided the world with crucial supply chains enabling millions to get access to PPE and other life-saving medical products. Whilst performing these crucial services, the industry started preparing for the inevitable vaccine distribution which would have eventually been required.

TIACA also foresaw the need for enhanced industry collaboration in dealing with the global challenge that the COVID vaccine would bring. So, it partnered with Pharma.Aero to establish ‘Project Sunrays’, subsequently publishing an excellent white paper highlighting crucial information and aspects of the upcoming challenge.

In the first few weeks of distribution of approved vaccines, the clear indication is that governments need to do more when it comes to establishing vaccine disbursement centres throughout their respective countries. The air cargo supply chain has prepared well and is positioned to support government plans but it’s crucial to have sufficient final-mile and vaccination centres in place. To protect each of us, we must protect all of us.

What according to you the global air cargo sector has to catch up fast to get up to speed in 2021? 

Safe and effective vaccine transport will obviously be a crucial trend this year, as will air cargo supporting global economic activity, with normality expected to return in the second half.  The focus on digitalisation accelerated during the COVID crisis, we can anticipate that to continue.  E-commerce also drove forward its rapid growth trajectory.  In between all these, we can also anticipate sustainability re-emerging as a megatrend along with infrastructural developments to support massive growth of businesses.

How do you see the year ahead for the air cargo industry, considering the massive downfall in 2020?

Considering air cargo volumes, 2020 ended only marginally below the levels at the end of 2019, demonstrating the valuable role played by air cargo during the pandemic-led crisis.  However, with international passenger volumes down by over 80 per cent in November 2020 versus November 2019 and the subsequent reduction in passenger operations taking away a significant amount of available cargo capacity will remain a major obstacle going forward.  The industry will have to maximise freighter capacity and will certainly continue to use passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations until normalcy is restored.

What are the major challenges that air cargo industry can face when it comes to delivering vaccines across the globe?

Capacity shortages and lack of global connectivity will pose significant challenges. Various specific handling requirements also tend to get difficult, as each vaccine that is approved comes with unique handling, storage and shelf-life specifications.

As a part of the world’s leading association, how do you think the stakeholders can cope up with any crisis/natural calamity, if united?

Exactly as you mention in the question – united we stand and conquer all obstacles, or divided we fall.

At this point of time, what will remain the main aim of TIACA? TIACA has a very clear vision for a safe, profitable and united air cargo industry that embraces modern technologies and practices to sustainably and fairly serve trade and social developments worldwide.

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