2024: Positive Change through Communication

As we close the CargoForwarder Global editorial year on the same day as the entire industry literally took off for the first time over a century ago, (17DEC23 marks the 120th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, US), we take a look at the journey ahead and what the drivers – or in this case, pilots – are behind the industry’s continuous development and growth.

When you ask AI to recreate the Wright’s first flight in 1903… Image: Perchance.org/CFG

Amazing, isn’t it, when you look back at how far we have come? That first flight took just 12 seconds over a “range” measuring a whole 36.5 meters in length – practically half the length of an entire B777F aircraft, these days. And when was the last time you measured anything flight-related in seconds? An online cargo-booking perhaps?

A history of growth
In those 120 years, the aviation industry – and air cargo industry, in particular – has grown into an enormous, complex and yet well-functioning web in which every day around 100,000 flights carry passengers and cargo to all ends of the earth. The air cargo industry alone will have generated around USD 135 billion in revenues by the end of this year, despite difficult market circumstances. And IATA predicts that it is on an upward trajectory again in 2024, expecting airfreight volumes to grow 4.5%, particularly during the second half of the year. More conservative estimates lie at between 1-3%. Either way, growth (revenue expectations aside), is forecast. Growth is success.

“Success happens with change”
Quoted in a CargoTech press release last week, Cédric Millet, President of CargoTech, talking about the year ahead, said: “Success happens with change.” He goes on to predict that, for CargoTech, at least, “2024 will be the year for synergies: commercial, technical, products. And of course, it will be another year of innovation, but that goes without saying.” This prediction is likely to fit the industry as a whole, and CargoForwarder Global looks forward to reporting on every one of those developments across all air cargo stakeholders.

Change comes through communication
The basis for all those developments, however, is communication. “Cargo is a people business” is a cargo statement uttered at some point during every cargo conference. And while, in past decades, those ‘people-relationships’ have mostly been bilateral – between airlines and forwarders, airlines and ground handlers, airlines and road feeder companies, forwarders and shippers, etc., the positive shift more recently is to one of a more comprehensive communication platform, as seen by the cargo communities – most recently in MST (see our separate report in this newsletter) – that are forming and developing, as well as the CargoTech digital expertise pooling initiative, or – also published last week: the Memorandum of Understanding between Pharma.Aero and the Cool Chain Association (CCA) to harmonize pharmaceutical/perishable cargo logistics processes, for example. As Stavros Evangelakakis, CCA Chairman of the Board put it: “We believe that we can achieve so much more through cross-industry collaboration than we ever could working independently in silos.” And that is precisely the point. Through communication, industry stakeholders can spot weak links, develop measures to improve their processes, offer increased visibility, reduce safety/performance risks, minimize waste, and come to a more resource-efficient outcome overall. “If you want to go far, go together” as the old African proverb states.

Artificial communication
That increased collaboration and communication is not least thanks to digital developments and companies increasingly pursuing digital transformation strategies. The industry, after years of being an old grandad clinging on to software developed in the Seventies, has finally entered a more golden decade of change, which began just before the pandemic and was then greatly accelerated by it. Silver linings, and all that. For sure, it still has a long way to go, but the growing number of Hackathons and partnerships between SaaS providers or pilots with ambitious airlines, GSSAs, ground service providers and other air cargo companies, are testament to positive progress.

The trick is to ensure we don’t swing completely the other way without thinking. In a recent AI panel discussion, one cargo airline representative said that she was having to ask her sales colleagues not to rely on ChatGPT for every single customer communication. Convenient, when a computer does the work for you, but you should still keep an eye on the ‘thinking’ that it does. A case in point, are the images AI generated for CFG to illustrate that very first flight of the Wright Brothers exactly 120 years ago, today. On the surface, with no prior knowledge, these are almost feasible outputs – yet make yourself a coffee and settle down to pinpoint all the errors in those images. And those are the ‘best ones’ from a whole selection of often very strange results.

Authentic and balanced communication
Which brings us on to the next point when it comes to communication. AI can only work with what it is fed with, and that should be balanced, representative, authentic, real, and correct industry information. The same goes for communication both within our industry and outside. Air cargo needs strong voices and advocates to governments, the general public, customs, civil aviation authorities, etc. Let 2024 be the year that those associations created to represent the industry – in the first instance IATA, TIACA, and FIATA, visibly work together and show their presence to the industry and at each other’s events. This appeared lacking for much of 2023, and the air cargo industry must not be relegated to the back row again, after having had its brief spotlight moment in 2020-2022. Please do more.

And to all event organizers in 2024: Please make a concentrated effort to promote gender balance in your panels and presentation agendas. Whilst a good start was made in some events in 2023, it would appear that this is still more by chance than engineering. Please consult the WAL – Women in Aviation and Logistics expert database and reach out to WAL directly if you are still at a loss: https://womeninaviationandlogistics.org/experts/

Transparent and honest communication
On a positive note: CargoForwarder Global looks forward to two developments in particular in 2024. On the one hand, seeing how the newly formed Cargo Collective will fare in attracting and encouraging young talent to and within in the air cargo industry. This will work by showing the industry as it really is, highlighting its value in the global economy, and pointing out all the very different career paths that are possible here.

On the other hand, following my critical Awards article written in JUL22, I have been asked to become a Supervisory Panel member of the Air Cargo Week World Air Cargo Awards 2024, together with other neutral peers, and first ideas have already been exchanged in establishing a solid, qualitative reputation and a more transparent process. So, there is hope that Awards will be made great again in the years to come.

Make Press Relations Great Again, too
On CargoForwarder Global’s Wish List for 2024, is a return to more reciprocal support and closer press relationships. A recent Cision Germany survey found that 70% of journalists prefer onsite press events. Many large airlines used to successfully offer these in the past and fostered good, long-standing press relationships as a result. More recently, press appears to have become a one-way street, with media simply becoming a rush to see who can copy/paste an available PR first, to secure ‘real-time’ publication. Press is more than that, and at CargoForwarder Global, we place great store by helping to communicate developments in the industry in an open, honest, and unique fashion. What we would greatly appreciate is true, supporting partnerships: Advertise with us, invite us to press events, keep us in the loop as to developments, and be quick to answers our questions when we have them. We are in this industry together and want to see it flourish.

New Year, New Website
Positive Change through Communication is the title of this piece. CargoForwarder Global’s motto for 2024 is Communication through Positive Change. Why? Because we have been working on our own little digital transformation and plan to start the new year with a new look website. Keep an eye out for it and let us know what you think!

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