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If air freight wants to retain market share and prevent modal shift, innovation will be critical, said industry leaders, after it was revealed today that air cargo lost 2.6m tonnes – equivalent to 10% of its global volumes – to sea freight since 2000, according to analysis from Seabury Group, as the maritime industry improved its products and services.

“Innovation will be our key challenge in the short term, and we need to accelerate our transit times,” Robbie Anderson, president, United Cargo, told delegates at the World Cargo Symposium in Doha.

Noting various examples of innovation and investment in the shipping and road freight sectors, he urged the air cargo industry to act. “There are lots of things going on in other modes, so it’s up to us to do the same.  There are also some changes in the business-to-consumer market that are going to change the landscape for us.”

But, he said innovation would have to be on the ground, not in the air. “It needs to be in the linkages and processes – suppliers like ground handlers and road feeder services will all play a key role in helping us move that forward. Innovation on the maritime side means there is more focus on shipping.”

The tradelane most affected by modal shift is the transpacific, said Gert-Jan Jansen, executive director Seabury.  “Many of the goods America is buying are now going by sea,” he said. “It’s in security and Customs that the maritime industry has been making progress. And transpacific is the most obvious way to go. “

The remarks followed a pledge by IATA’s Cargo Committee to modernise the industry. Chairman Steve Gunning said:  “If we are going to fight modal shift we need to act as an industry. We need to bring the processes right up to date – we need to accelerate transit times.”

Des Vertannes, head of IATA Cargo, added: “Modal shift always happens – and then it rebounds. What is incumbent on us, however, is to make a difference – which we haven’t done in 30 years. Let’s reduce transit times from five or six days by 24 or 36 hours.”



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