Coming together for air cargo

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TIACA Air Cargo Forum 2016 in Paris, France

According to the Oxford English Dictionary an association is “a group of people organised for a joint purpose” and in virtually no other industry is this more important than in air cargo, writes Stuart Flitton.

While there are several bodies working in individual sectors of airfreight, The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) is the only one that represents the whole supply chain.

TIACA’s roots go back to October 1962 when the Society of Automotive Engineers in the US held the first International Air Cargo Forum in Atlanta. The focus was on stimulating interest in air cargo, as well as building common standards in equipment, ground handling and procedures.

This led to the formation of the International Air Cargo Forum Association in 1990 and TIACA four years later. Sebastiaan Scholte, who became the association chairman in October last year, said that TIACA’s only objective was to make the industry better.

“We are the neutral oil that flows through the machine. We can be the facilitator, the initiator,” Scholte says.

TIACA has about 300 members, of which roughly 20 per cent are airports, another 20 per cent airlines and the rest come from all other parts of the industry, including giants such as Boeing to forwarders, shippers, general sales agents, ground handlers, logistics companies, customs brokers, consultants, educational institutions, equipment manufacturers, IT systems providers, and screening technology developers.

Scholte says that since he became chairman, TIACA has redefined its strategy and that one of the main goals of his two-year term is to improve transparency and visibility of the supply chain.

One method of achieving this is the online Cargo Service Quality (CSQ) tool, which is currently being rolled out. The aim is to create an open platform for customer ratings of services across the supply chain from forwarders to airports to ground handlers.

Participants in the CSQ programme are able to fill out an online form to assess the quality of airfreight services either every quarter or every six months.

These will then be published twice a year in TIACA Times. During the programme’s pilot phase, assessments are focusing on airports and cargo terminal operators before being expanded to other segments of the supply chain.

“We have spoken to a lot of shippers and they say there is a lack of visibility and transparency. Our aim is that it will become a quality benchmark. If you get a good CSQ rating it says something about your company,” Scholte says.

He says that part of the purpose of CSQ was to counteract the tendency to try to mask mistakes or mishaps in the process.

“There’s nothing wrong if something goes wrong – what is wrong is that we don’t share what is going wrong. If we do share, then the other parties can react adequately and readjust.”

TIACA’s now biennial Air Cargo Forum is one of the biggest gatherings in the industry. It circulates across the continents: in 2014 the event was held in Seoul, South Korea, the 2016 one in Paris, and in 2020 it will be in Miami.

The 2018 ACF is being held in Toronto in October and TIACA general-secretary Vladimir Zubkov, says the event will be attended by up to 4,000 delegates. This year, the TIACA AGM will take place during the ACF and there will also be the simultaneous Multimodal Americas and Supply Chain Americas conferences.

“The ACF used to be the only game in town. We were the pioneers of this event. Now there are many more events in air cargo industry, and these all help to contribute to the development of the industry,” Zubkov says.

TIACA sees other organisations and events not as competitors but as complementary to its own activities and it is keen to engage with them.

Zubkov says the wide breadth of TIACA membership was important because all are treated equal with the smaller players being able to network with industry leaders.

This gives bigger players direct access to and frequent contacts with forwarders and handling companies. “It’s all mutual interest.”