WCS 2024: Dragon Dances and Dynamic Discussions

Almost 2000 participants descended on Hong Kong for the 18th IATA World Cargo Symposium (WCS) last week. The event, hosted at the AsiaWorld-Expo by IATA along with the island’s native airline Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), ran from 12MAR24-14MAR24 and brought together a diverse array of experts from over 70 countries. As always, the WCS served as a pivotal platform for discussion and shed light on crucial themes such as safety and security, digitalization, and sustainability, all with a view to exchanging ideas and collaborating to shape the future of the global air cargo industry.

Colorful dragon dances are part of the Chinese culture, celebrated at every major event – visuals: CFG/or

Dragon Dance Opening.

The event began with a stunning performance: the traditional dragon dance on stage. This allowed participants to connect with the local culture right from the start, creating a memorable and engaging atmosphere.

The symposium started following a warm welcome from Paul Chan, the Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong government, who highlighted Hong Kong’s pivotal role in the Asia-Pacific region, handling over 4.5 million tons last year. Mr. Chan expressed optimism, outlining plans to return to pre-pandemic levels in both passenger and cargo sectors. He also presented the vision for HKIA’s development, highlighting plans to expand air connectivity for passengers and cargo, and emphasized the airport’s commitment to green aviation, noting that Hong Kong (HKG) has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Cargo Year in review.

Brendan Sullivan, the Global Head of Cargo at IATA, underscored the increasing importance of air cargo, particularly evident amid recent events such as the Red Sea conflict. Sullivan emphasized that air cargo plays a critical role both in responding to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, and in addressing geopolitical challenges, highlighting its versatility and significance in times of crisis.

Sullivan emphasized that air cargo not only serves as a vital mode of transportation but also generates employment opportunities worldwide, contributing to sustainable and efficient economic growth. He stressed that, as the industry strives to return to pre-pandemic levels, it is imperative to ensure that growth is efficient, safe, and sustainable.

Progress in ONE Record, safety topics, and FACE

Several significant advancements were highlighted during the opening plenary. Cathay Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo announced the successful implementation of ONE Record ahead of the target date of JAN26, demonstrating proactive industry adaptation. In the realm of safety, a major milestone was achieved with the completion of a draft for a new fire test standard, poised for approval. This standard, once ratified, will apply to fire-resistant containers and fire containment covers for aircraft pallets, enhancing aviation safety standards. Additionally, sustainability efforts are progressing steadily, with the industry committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. While collaboration between industry players have been initiated to address sustainability challenges, concerns persist regarding the shortage of SAF supply resulting from the transition to solar and wind energy generation. Lastly, the human element remains paramount in driving improvements in air cargo. IATA continues to support initiatives such as the Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) Center, the FACE program, and the IATA 25by2025 initiative, ensuring that people remain at the forefront of industry progress.

Economic outlook.

During the opening, Marie Owens Thomsen, Senior Vice President of Sustainability and Chief Economist at IATA, shared key economic updates with the audience.

She also highlighted risks facing the industry:

  • Uncertainty from unexpected elections and their impact on policies
  • Expected record-high oil and gas extractions in 2024 to secure energy
  • Central banks not planning to lower interest rates due to tight labor markets and high inflation
  • Continued high jet fuel prices and the strength of the US dollar

Despite these challenges, the industry has returned to profitability. Efforts are underway to ensure efficient cargo operations for sustained profitability in the future.

Air cargo market factors, e-commerce, and digitalization

The air cargo market is continually evolving, influenced by various factors discussed by industry experts such as Alina Fetisova from the International Trade Centre, Niall van de Wouw from Xeneta, Cissy Chan from HKIA, and Tom Owen from Cathay Cargo. These factors can be summarized into the following groups:

  • Recovery of Hong Kong airport volumes, expected to be fully restored by the end of 2024
  • Positive outcomes for air freight due to developments in sea freight
  • Increasing restrictions on trade
  • Changing consumer patterns shaping the demands of air freight

Emphasize was placed on the significance of e-commerce and consumer behavior. It was noted that the air cargo industry is encountering challenges in efficiently managing individual shipments, highlighting the importance of stakeholders in effectively handling the associated data for each piece.

Thomas Yu, Senior Director Global Hub Operations, Cainiao commented “Harmony across the entire journey is important for the physical shipments flow as well as well as digital flow of all the stakeholders involved.”

The conversation involving Irene Lau, Assistant General Manager of Aviation Logistics at HKIA, Ingrid Lee, Head of Cargo Digital at Cathay Cargo, and Andres Bianchi, Chief Executive Officer of LATAM Cargo, concluded that there is a collective need for a paradigm shift towards embracing new mindsets in alignment with emerging digital tools and developments within the industry. They underscored the importance of collaboration among stakeholders and the sharing of best practices as integral components of this transformation.

Irene Lau commented: “Driving digital transformation is not only about the technology; we need to get a digital mindset, open mindset to approach the change management.”

Ingrid Lee added: “We have to work as one team by putting aside the company’s interests and collaborating towards positive directions.”

People in Air Cargo.

One of the last panel discussions during the first day was dedicated to the people. Wilson Kwong, CEO of HACTL, stated that it remains challenging to find and attract talent in the industry, citing factors such as the distance of commuting to the airport, salary considerations, and the perceived career paths within the industry.

AlAnood AlSuwaidi, SVP Cargo MEAA at Menzies Aviation, emphasized the importance of keeping individuals engaged and included in the industry, while also ensuring that they have clear career goals.

Janina Meininger, Business Development Manager at CHI Deutschland Cargo Handling GmbH, provided valuable insights from the perspective of the younger generation. She highlighted the significance of engaging with young potentials early on, promoting the industry’s perspectives while emphasizing the importance of mentoring and embracing individual strengths.

To conclude the first day of the WCS on the people topic, the finalists of the IATA FACE UP competition were presented to the audience. These young talents included Niclas Scheiber from Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Erik Goldenstein from Fraunhofer, and Arjan Bhogal from Buckinghamshire New University.



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