The business of freedom (with cargo in the belly)

Aviation Week Network held a Fireside Chat with Alexandre De Juniac, IATA CEO and Director General on 26MAR21 – the final interview before Willy Walsh takes over on 01APR21. De Juniac
reflected on changes over the past year (

Image: AWN webinar screenshot
Image: AWN webinar screenshot


Calling in from Geneva, Switzerland, de Juniac recalled that the defining moment when it became clear that the pandemic was going to have far-reaching consequences, was: “at the end of FEB20,
it became clear that the pandemic was going beyond the borders of China, it entered into Europe, starting in Italy and then going across the world.”
With the increasing restrictions that
were being put in place, and airlines cancelling services, “I understood that something of an order of magnitude beyond what we had known before, was happening.” IATA was re-organized
within a few hours from “normal, or routine mode” into a “crisis mode”. “We set up a crisis committee that operated 24/7 and met every day to assess the situation and see
what could be done with regard to safety, advocacy, and to defend the industry, etc. It was very impressive to see 1,800 people, based everywhere in the world, being able to change in a few hours
and mobilize to serve the industry.”
The focus within the first few weeks, was already on the “restart plan”, and cooperation with governments to help the industry, and particularly IATA
members, to survive was intense and productive.

We were not totally unprepared for the pandemic
“Not just IATA, but this industry, which was probably the most severely hit by the pandemic, was not totally unprepared. We were prepared: we knew what a pandemic was, and we had some
processes for it. Just not at this level and magnitude. IATA had crisis plans and processes ready, but we have now gone one or two steps beyond this and shifted the whole organization into crisis
There is still much to resolve however – especially with regard to individual governments, which need to be forward-looking, structured, have a strategic vision, and support in
re-opening the industry. “There are very few states on this planet that have adopted a forward-looking strategy to stop the virus and, at the same time, reopen the country.” IATA’s key
function is one of advocacy, and support in aligning processes between its members and governments. One initiative IATA came up with, is the IATA Travel Pass: a digital certification app that
could give governments the confidence to open their borders to those who have been vaccinated or tested. Airline and passengers, too, would have an easy way of receiving and providing necessary
information in a safe and uniform manner. Asked about the parallel EU “Green Pass” which may be agreed soon, de Juniac pleaded for simple, streamlined systems to reduce the complexity
for passengers wishing to travel.

Sustainability, CORSIA and Zero Emissions
Asked if there is more that airlines could be doing towards sustainability, particularly when they are challenged with the pandemic, de Juniac underlined: “We have not given up our
environment and sustainability commitments from 12 years ago”
, referring to emission reductions per passenger, or carbon-neutral growth, for example, stating that some of these had already
been successfully fulfilled. Not only was there “no doubt about our commitment”, but the industry is also looking in to additional measures; efficiency of airline operations and air
traffic management systems, also the use of sustainable alternative fuel, new technologies for aircraft propulsion whether electric, hydrogen, or something else, will all contribute to fulfilling
sustainable goals. “I don’t understand why our industry, which accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions, has to take the blame for everybody!” he emphasized. The other “98% could also work on
their carbon footprint!”

This is the business of freedom!
“We are the business of freedom and this crisis has proven how true this is. When you are deprived of this freedom, you realise how much you miss it. And not just for economic reasons”,
though these are the most impacting. “Social, cultural, political, human, family reasons – all these points of view, it is truer than ever, that we are the business of freedom.” De
Juniac delightedly exclaimed that he had recently taken his first long-haul flight in a year, together with Willy Walsh, to Singapore, and said it felt lovely to fly again, despite all the
complicated and strict processes. “It still works! But there is still a long way to go” referring to the sad view of empty airports.

New IATA Director General and industry outlook
Asked about the qualities Willy Walsh will bring as IATA’s 8th Director General, de Juniac exclaimed: “He will bring an extensive knowledge of the sector. He is a high-ranked, highly regarded
expert of the industry, with undisputed knowledge and experience, and this is key, especially in a tough, crisis period. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect successor.”

IATA recently published two scenarios for the industry’s recovery, depending on the level of vaccinations. The positive scenario foresees resumption of travel in the summer, with progressive
re-openings, and “we hope that by the end of 2021, we should reach around 42% of 2019 traffic, and then it could accelerate”. It all depends on how cautious governments are, and how
“under control” the pandemic is.

Will Cargo be a permanent change, with airlines keeping a bigger focus on the cargo operations?

“We must be aware of the figures. Even if cargo has been the bright spot of the industry in 2020, it was mainly due to the capacity crunch that happened following the crisis when almost all
passenger aircraft were grounded. As cargo is transported through the bellies of passenger aircraft, capacity dropped, prices went up, so cargo revenues increased. In proportion, they have become
absolutely key compared to passenger revenues that have significantly dropped. But, when long-haul starts again and capacities increase, we should come back to more normal situation, knowing, at
the same time, that in 2020, demand for cargo was not so high – it fell by 8%. So, I think when we come back to a normal situation, we will still have a pretty strong cargo, but probably with too
much capacity – as it was before in 2019”
. Hard to believe, under current circumstances, that air cargo capacities will again be in excess, one day…

Brigitte Gledhill

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Source: Cargoforwarder

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