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And so to the content. IATA organised its tracks in a logical, but peculiarly complicated way. The programme of events was really quite confusing, and there were calls for them to be reorganised next year.

Previous IATA events have thrown up some good debates, and, more recently, a sense of progress through setting targets.  Although there was the occasional moment of excitement  – a “right old ding dong” in ULDs (a heated debate), and a good discussion in time and temperature, where the participants all know each other well, some of the rest was disappointing.  More lecturing, fewer discussions – and apparently no targets for next year. It all felt rather aimless. There were very few questions from the floor in many tracks, particularly Commercial – for some reason the delegates seemed a lot less animated than usual. Is it because business is tough? Because they were uninspired? Are there no problems to discuss, or issues to be overcome? Not even the normally vocal handlers could muster much enthusiasm.

It’s hard to say why. There were some good insights though. One that stuck in a few people’s minds was that air cargo should no longer be linked to GDP x 2 – the traditional indicator. Particularly in a recession, GDP becomes influenced more by the services sector, rather than manufacturing, thus skewing the figures .

The time and temperature people said that the scope now being discussed is way beyond the remit of the airlines. It needs to be reigned back to more achievable goals – and despite it being a friendly group who enjoyed themselves, there was a sense of déjà vu.

E-freight, or e-Cargo as it now seems to be known, has moved away from the original idea of “the Big Bang” to far smaller steps – one document at a time, one lane at a time, one company at a time. Traxon’s Felix Keck showed more clearly how each part of the industry shouldn’t be deterred by another’s  inability (or lack of desire) to participate, but that it can drive efficiency and make savings anyway.

Sadly – or possibly thankfully – The Loadstar couldn’t go to each and every session. And therefore can’t write a complete list of who was good and who was not. But Niall van de Wouw, formerly of Seabury, now at Clive, did a good speech on how the industry should be embracing humanised technology – ie using intuitive technology in the spirit of Google and Apple, rather than Excel and a lot of user manuals and tedious training. (Another reason that younger people coming into the industry would be turned off by it.)

Darryl Judd of Logistics Executive was animated and interesting, showing how the industry is failing to attract that new generation.  And Chris Notter  of Etihad was, as ever, the impeccable moderator. Funny, illuminating and provoking.

And so on to moderators. Lots of people have something to say about BBC presenter Aaron Heslehurst. The main one being that no one can frighten a crowd of people faster. No one wants to answer his questions as he is too dominating – which is problematic for a moderator that should be trying to tease interesting discussions out of an audience. “Air cargo is just a big pension pot for him,” said one delegate. “He terrifies everyone – why would anyone speak up when they think they are going to be humiliated?” said another. “He talks first, thinks later,” said a third.

And actually, there are plenty of really talented moderators in this industry. Why not use one of them? Chris Notter, IATA’s Glyn Hughes, Michael Webber (where is he? – he’s sorely missed) to name but three. Cheaper, more knowledgeable, well-liked. And a lot less scary.

And what of the closed meetings? Far more interesting, apparently. In essence, the cargo chiefs have come up with several things to focus on. There’s a desire to push the 35% figure (ie the value of air cargo volumes), rather than the 0.5% of volumes that air cargo actually represents,  which is hardly a convincing number for governments and regulators to respond to.

The fact that the industry is brimming with innovation, but terrible at implementation. That air cargo should reduce the time goods spend travelling by 24 hours, from the currently shameful six days.  (We’ve heard that before.) A public emphasis on air cargo’s social responsibility, ie its role in moving vaccines, humanitarian aid and so on. And better communication with the passenger division. The latest buzz is that cargo, on average, accounts for 12% of airline revenues, while first class passengers, which take a larger share of internal investment, account for just 4%. Business class, meanwhile, is 14%. That should be better communicated to airline CEOs, to show that investment in cargo is worthwhile.

So that’s it, in a nutshell. Today will see the closing plenary, and the bizzarely scheduled gala dinner – apparently an attempt to ensure that everyone stays to the bitter end, but is more likely to mean that no one will go to what could have been a good networking opportunity. ( Last night was the time to do it.)

You can’t say IATA isn’t trying. And Des remains a very popular leader, who is backed by one and all. But the focus on industry strategy by those at the top is in danger of overshadowing the needs of the nuts and bolts people, who may need reassuring that what their leaders are doing is relevant.

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