Civil Aviation

IATA sets priorities for air cargo industry: sustainability, digitization, and safety  

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has highlighted three key priorities for the air cargo industry at the 16th World Cargo Symposium held in Istanbul: sustainability, digitization, and safety. The priorities were outlined as essential to maintain momentum against a challenging operating environment, with Brendan Sullivan, IATA’s Global Head of Cargo, stating that “as we navigate the current situation, air cargo’s priorities have not changed, we need to continue to focus on sustainability, digitization, and safety.”


The air cargo industry’s license to do business depends on sustainability, according to IATA. The Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 was agreed by governments at the 41st ICAO Assembly last October. However, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production levels remain challenging, and IATA has called for government incentives to support production.

Sullivan stated that “the solution is government policy incentives. Through incentivizing production, we could see 30 billion liters of SAF available by 2030. That will still be far from where we need to be. But it would be a clear tipping point towards our net zero ambition of ample SAF quantities at affordable prices.”

IATA is also working on several other areas to support the industry’s energy transition. These include supporting effective carbon calculations and offsetting, expanding the IATA Environmental Assessment to other areas of the industry, and developing environmental, social and governance (ESG) related metrics to cut through the many methodologies in circulation.


IATA outlined three goals for digitization in the air cargo industry. The first is 100% airline capability of ONE Record by January 2026. This initiative aims to replace the many data standards used for transport documents with a single record for every shipment. The Cargo Services Conference has supported this vision, and the Cargo Advisory Council wants to achieve 100% airline capability by 1 January 2026.

The second goal is to ensure digital standards are in place to support the global supply chain. The IATA Interactive Cargo guidelines have been finalized on tracking devices used to monitor the quality and accuracy of conditions of time and temperature-sensitive goods being shipped globally. The third goal is to ensure compliance and support for customs, trade facilitation, and other government processes that are increasingly digitalized.


Alongside sustainability and efficiency, safety is another important aspect for the air cargo industry. Lithium batteries continue to be a concern, and IATA has outlined three safety priorities for air cargo. The first is to stop rogue shippers, with civil aviation authorities taking strong action against shippers not declaring lithium batteries in cargo or mail shipments. The second is to accelerate the development of a test standard for fire-resistant aircraft containers with a fire involving lithium batteries. The third is to ensure recognition from governments of the single standard to identify all lithium battery-powered vehicles which comes into effect from 1 January 2025.

Value of Air Cargo

Air cargo is a critical industry that saves lives, delivering aid and relief to those in need. According to Sullivan, “the industry mobilized to support those affected by the earthquakes in Syria and Türkiye. Working together to ensure that air cargo remains a reliable and efficient means of providing support to those in need, while simultaneously strengthening our global supply chains and contributing to the sustainable development of our economies is essential.”

According to the latest IATA report, in February 2023 the demand for air cargo (in CTK) globally improved in February, standing above pre-pandemic levels and halving the fall compared to February 2022, when it was still maintained the strong momentum unleashed in 2020. In the previous two months the year-on-year drop had been -14.9% and -15.3%, but in February 2023 it was only -7.5% (and grew 2, 9% compared to the same month of 2019).

On the other hand, capacity (ACTK) grew 8.6%, as a result of the greater availability of space in passenger aircraft holds.


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