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“You can’t make a career in air cargo,” I was told recently. “Airlines have gradually decimated their cargo business. Apart from a handful of people, those that have remained are those that couldn’t find a job anywhere else.”
From an outsider’s perspective, it does indeed look as if a lonely cabal runs it all.
It turns out to be true. The inner circle works hard to ensure the industry functions (as well as a forgotten outpost of aviation can do).
This, of course, is a problem. Not that the few work so hard on behalf of the many, but that no one is there to fill their shoes when they finally, and deservedly, retire.
In an (admittedly not very scientific) survey at a conference recently, 100% of people asked had tripped into cargo by accident. And while some loved it, and had invested enough time or money to make it worthwhile to stay, others saw it as a stepping stone to somewhere else. One senior manager had been kept in cargo as a punishment by a spiteful (passenger) boss.
Not only does this leave observers wondering who will take over, but it also hinders the industry that its collective memory is so short. It makes for short-term decisions, based on inexperience (and this includes the trade press as much as the business itself).
Take the IATA, FIATA discussions on training, and various other rifts. If you came into the industry now, you could be forgiven for thinking that IATA was designed to be a profit-making business, intent on making revenues from cargo to the possible detriment of the industry. (It currently is, but it wasn’t always thus.)
Equally, if you listen to FIATA, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a mouthpiece for the multinational forwarders, the big boys who take 80% of the business value.
You might hear that CASS is an anachronistic, airline-boosting system, and you might wonder why forwarders need IATA accreditation.
But just because current winds propel these views, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other considerations. Today’s news fails to take into account the past.
CASS was developed to boost efficiencies for airlines, agents and their customers, who at the time were delighted with its capabilities.
And while IATA may have enjoyed a profit from its training arm – which, incidentally, is not covered by the cargo division but by the HR profit centre – it does offer thorough training to smaller forwarders who continue to be agents of the airlines, something FIATA has struggled, by the nature of its infrastructure, to do.
And that is what a historical overview can show – that nothing is black and white, but it has all been greyed by various influences and situations over time.
Which is one reason that the industry, those in it for both the long and short haul, should support those few with experience who can see the bigger picture.
One of those people is Des Vertannes. “A gentleman, a scholar and a genius,” says one source. “Gives the industry true hope,” says another. No one has a bad word to say. So far, he has been in the job less than a year. His hands are currently tied. But assuming this changes at the end of the despotic rule over IATA in June, everyone needs to rally round to support his endeavours. The clearest view is the one from the top of the mountain. And there are few people in this short-term industry better placed to see it – and act on it – than Des.
If you have been in the industry for a long time, please get in touch with me about an article which is looking at 40 years of air cargo