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World Cargo Symposium 2024: Brendan Sullivan’s speech in full

Sullivan emphasised the importance of driving the industry forward through digitalisation, safety and compliance and net zero initiatives (Image credit: IATA)

At the 18th World Cargo Symposium this year in Hong Kong, IATA’s global head of cargo Brendan Sullivan emphasised the importance of driving the industry forward through digitalisation, safety and compliance and net zero initiatives. This is his speech in full: 

We are all connected to an industry that matters. Air cargo is critical for the global economy and it improves people’s lives.

In extraordinary circumstances this is clearly visible. During the pandemic, collectively we brought medical supplies and vaccines to where they were needed. Air cargo delivers humanitarian aid in the wake of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. And today it is a vital alternative to Red Sea shipping lanes that face geopolitical disruptions.

In addition, each and every day our industry delivers goods that keep the global economy moving. The 58 million tonnes of air cargo delivered in 2023 accounted for 35 per cent of the value of goods traded internationally. That supports jobs the world over.

And it is critical to our success in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals—in particular reducing poverty and contributing to sustained and inclusive economic growth.

We work in an inspiring sector. Our success matters. And with volumes now firmly back to pre-pandemic levels the challenge is to ensure that our growth is efficient, safe, and sustainable. That’s a familiar agenda which we will unpack over the next days. And I am encouraged about the discussions that we will have as the building blocks are in place to significantly accelerate progress.


Let’s start with efficiency where the biggest opportunity is digitalisation. This has not happened as fast as any of us would have liked. But progress is real. Inefficient paper-based, manual processes are being replaced with digital solutions in all aspects of cargo operations from tracking to customs clearance. That’s a fact.

And to illustrate that, I will highlight three areas:

Seamless sharing of digital information: The adoption of the ONE Record standard marks a substantial shift towards efficient data exchange throughout the supply chain. At this WCS two of our leading members, Cathay Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo both announced that they have implemented ONE Record well before the target date of January 2026 when all IATA member airlines aim to have the ONE Record capability.

The ongoing challenge lies in ensuring that our IT solutions extend these digital benefits to all participants in the supply chain. It’s encouraging to see that all major airline IT platform providers have committed to achieving ONE Record capability in a timely manner.

Digitalisation of customs and trade facilitation processes: Some countries have made notable progress in developing and implementing strategies to facilitate trade, streamline border operations, and securely manage goods flow.

For example, Brazil’s adoption of IATA’s Advance Cargo Information digital standards has dramatically sped up cargo release times—from an average of 5 days to just 5 hours. Authorities estimate that this digital shift could also reduce manual cargo processing by as much as 90 per cent.

In addition, the increasing number of pre-loading advance cargo information initiatives highlights the importance of sharing precise and accurate data within the air cargo supply chain. After the US in 2019 and the EU last year, the UAE and Canada are set to deploy such programmes before the end of 2024. Consequently, pre-loading advance cargo information requirements will affect a total of one-third of all air cargo worldwide, posing significant challenges for non-compliant air cargo supply chain stakeholders.

Shipment tracking: The growth in the transport of pharmaceuticals by air and the rapid rise in e-commerce, has led to an increase in demand for real-time shipment tracking. Shippers, cargo handlers and stakeholders want to know the procedures and requirements for the approval and use of tracking devices and data loggers.

The updated IATA Interactive Cargo Guidance provides a common framework so that tracking devices can monitor the quality and accuracy of conditions of time and temperature sensitive goods.

While the journey towards digitalisation is not without challenges, our call to action is clear: governments must consistently implement global standards; supply chain partners need to collaborate to overcome shared challenges; and the entire industry must align to ensure a unified and effective approach to digitalisation.

To spearhead this alignment, IATA has introduced the Digitalisation Charter to help the value chain give additional focus to this all-important areas. By adhering to the Charter’s principles – such as adopting industry-wide standards, championing sustainability, guaranteeing ethical technology use, and upholding digital leadership.

The charter benchmarks excellence, security and sustainability within the digital domain. I am delighted to announce Cathay Cargo, Champ Cargosystems, Global Logistics System (HK) Company Limited (GLSHK), IAG Cargo, IBS Software, LATAM Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo as the first signatories of the charter.


As always, safety is critical to our success. Last year the industry’s safety record reached new heights. Among the 38 million flights in 2023 there were 30 accidents and just one of which was fatal.

A good safety record, as we all know, is earned every day. And for air cargo, we must continue to put special emphasis on the handling of dangerous goods, and in particular lithium batteries. In the area, there are some significant developments in the past months.

The first is the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR), which we have continuously published since 1956. We began the year by renewing and strengthening our partnership with ICAO supporting the publication of this critical resource.

And, to bolster the effective implementation of the DGR, in 2019 we introduced DG AutoCheck. This simplifies and improves the accuracy of verifying shipment compliance. On top of that the introduction of the Connect API feature within DG AutoCheck automates the data transfer process to other systems across the value chain, streamlining operations and reducing the potential for mistakes. The adoption of this technology grew to over 23,000 checks in December alone.

Within items covered under the DGR, lithium batteries are a key priority for safety and there are some key developments to report. First, a draft for developing a new fire test standard is ready for approval. It would be applicable to fire-resistant containers (FRC) and fire containment covers (FCC) for aircraft pallets. This will aid in countering improperly packaged shipments should they be loaded on board.

Second, over 90 airlines now report dangerous good incident data to the IATA Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) Priority now is developing more actionable insights using this data to improve risk management and advocacy capabilities.

Third, recognising the particular risks from inexperienced e-commerce shippers using the postal system we published special guidance for operators to recognise and mitigate the risks.

Fourth, the number of companies participating in CEIV Lithium Batteries has grown to 93. The more companies that join the more we will see best practice implemented.

And fifth, regulation is getting stronger. All governments need to support the strengthening of the standards in Annex 18 of the Chicago Convention concerning the safe transport of dangerous goods. Updates to Annex 18 will clarify who is responsible for what within the cargo supply chain and how countries oversee these activities.

We urge all countries to adopt and implement these changes to Annex 18, thereby ensuring the continued safety and efficiency of air transport for dangerous goods.

These actions demonstrate how the issues associated with lithium batteries are being comprehensively managed with better education, tracking and operational solutions.

But when all that is ignored by rogue shippers, we continue to count on strong action by government authorities. Failing to declare lithium batteries in cargo or mail shipment, sending batteries which do not comply with UN test criteria, or not preparing the dangerous goods shipments in accordance with regulations compromises safety and it must be clear to all that the authorities will punish offenders.


And that brings me to sustainability and our industry’s existential target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are the cornerstone of our decarbonisation efforts. While it would be impossible to recap all the work being done in this area, I will mention recent highlights demonstrating the industry’s strong demand for SAF:

Virgin Atlantic completed the first transatlantic flight powered entirely by SAF, transporting a Kuehne+Nagel shipment and Cargolux and Norwegian Air Shuttle have concluded firm SAF forward purchase agreements with Nork e-fuel—yet another strong demand signal from airlines.

Cathay Pacific also partnered with nine corporate customers through its Corporate SAF Programme to accelerate SAF adoption and convey a signal of firm demand for SAF from multi-sectoral players. Cathay Pacific is also the co-initiator of the Hong Kong Sustainable Aviation Fuel Coalition (HKSAFC), seeking to grow Hong Kong as a regional SAF hub.

And there is a growing number of partnerships between airlines, freight forwarders and shippers supporting SAF use, for example: Korean Air with Yusen Logistics to further promote the use of SAF in the air cargo industry, DHL Express with luxury e-commerce company Mytheresa, Kuehne+Nagel with IAG Cargo, and Lufthansa Cargo and Nippon Express Europe.

There is no shortage of demand signals form airlines and shippers to use SAF. The problem remains a shortage of supply. As we saw with the introduction of solar and wind generation for electricity, production incentives are the way forward.

Singapore is a good example. The government has recently taken steps to create a Sustainable Air Hub with a view to foster SAF. The US is another with tax credits embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act that are resulting in increased production. We need more governments to follow these positive examples.

And as we make progress towards our net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 goal, transparency in CO2 emissions is critical. It will become a regulatory requirement and it is being demanded by our customers who must also report on their emissions, including to their stakeholders.

To be credible, we must be consistent. That is why IATA is developing CO2 Connect for Air Cargo, and partnering with the Smart Freight Centre, in a collaboration that enables application of a unified methodology along the air cargo value chain for carbon emission calculations and reporting.

To calculate CO2 emissions, CO2 Connect for Cargo is powered by actual airline operational data and based on the industry-approved methodology, responds to the growing demand for CO2 data transparency.

Complementing this is IATA Environmental assessment (IEnvA) for Cargo. Last year, we expanded IEnvA to include airports, cargo handling facilities, freight forwarders, and ramp handlers. Currently, the programme supports 60 organizations from the industry, including airlines, airports and cargo handlers.

In 2023, the programme gained momentum among handlers, with four companies – dnata, Menzies, SATS, and QAS – joining. Later today, we will celebrate Cathay Cargo Terminal’s and HACTL’s full IEnvA certification.

Initiatives like CO2 Connect, IEnvA and partnerships for sustainable aviation fuel procurement exemplify our collective commitment to a reducing our industry’s impact going forward.


The last topic that I will address is people. People are at the core of any improvement in what air cargo can deliver. And we need to keep supporting three critical initiatives which you also hear more about at this symposium.

IATA’s Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) Centre promotes continuous learning helping to build a strong, adaptable workforce, crucial for meeting the dynamic demands of the aviation sector. Last year within the CBTA we trained over 75,000 air cargo professionals.

The Future Air Cargo Executive (FACE) programme which provides a forum for executives under 35 to network and exchange ideas to lead our industry’s next chapter.

And the IATA 25by2025 initiative which aims to increase female participation across the industry, particularly in leadership roles. We will not have the people we need to drive the industry forward if we do not fully take advantage of half the world’s population that is female. If you are not already among the 210 signatories to the 25by2025 pledge, I encourage you do so today.


It is always a challenge to summarise a year of progress in a short report. There is no shortage of topics to track. We are an industry that is active on many fronts. And together our actions are transformative for a critical global industry.

And that is important. For any industry to survive change is essential. And constant change for anyone is never easy. But it is absolutely worth it when that change delivers 60 million tonnes of cargo which powers economies, improves peoples’ lives and genuinely makes our world a better place.

And that is what inspires us to make our industry more efficient, ever safer and on target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.