What is the point of IATA? Nigel Tomkins asks
IATA, the International Air Transport Association, is a highly valued airline industry guardian angel, a profound meeting point, a place to nurture and establish important decisions.
The trade body for 280 airlines – representing 83 per cent of the world’s total air traffic – supports ‘many areas of aviation activity’, whilst helping to formulate industry policy on critical aviation issues, proclaims its website.
But its stated mission ‘to represent, lead and serve’ the airline industry is a flight of fancy that not all people will agree with in 2018.
Today IATA is in danger of turning into a money-chasing, cash-consuming bureaucratic fungus which, amongst other things, gathers data about the activities of its constituent members and then sells this information back to them, leaving many air cargo supply chain members – including customers, partners, suppliers and the media – in the dark about a mass of extremely useful industry trends, data and forecasts. How does this closed stance support ‘many areas of aviation activity’?
Easy access to this strategically unshared information would undoubtedly help all air cargo components perform their jobs better, a factor which would create a more enlightened, more efficient and more successful industry, one with fewer errors, less waste, better planning.
But IATA sells this information, not because it contains closely guarded secrets, but because it is a moneymaking exercise. In adopting this stance, has IATA become an acronym for I Ain’t Telling Anyone?
The association also regularly and shamelessly sets industry efficiency targets that it embarrassingly fails to achieve (the slow global take up of e-airwaybills is a typical long-running example); it adopts and embraces a shocking lack of transparency; and studiously fails to openly investigate difficult airline and air cargo industry subjects such as widespread corruption, cartels, inequality, unfair Customs practices, bribery, cyber security, sexism, racism, unaligned processes, political bias.
The handling of press enquiries is a typical sham. With a global press office head count of approximately 17 people (as listed on the IATA official website), getting a media response to a difficult question takes longer than the delivery of a multi-leg African airfreight consignment.
In truth, the IATA bureaucrats have lost touch with reality. They haven’t moved with the times, haven’t kept up with the speed of change that has, for example, propelled the aircraft manufacturing and avionics businesses to new horizons, created progressive global logistics companies. Worse still is that many of the air transport industry’s customers and suppliers are smart, forward thinking, innovative, ready-to-change, cutting-edge, digitised businesses. Some are converting to blockchain finance methodology, will soon be utilising artificial intelligence to predict and manage traffic flows, and will expect regulators and advisors to dovetail nicely into this evolution.
But where was IATA in the last 20 years when it came to the desperate need to unravel the barbed-wire complexities of end-to-end air cargo processes and transactions? Where was the critically needed, neutral, electronic communications platform that – 10 years ago – should have been available to all, at bearable costs?
Over the years, the IATA directorate has been staffed by a wide range of respected, experienced officers. For many of those years, I grew to know some of them. But there was always a feeling of distance – laced with not a small amount of arrogance – that felt as if they held the golden key to the treasure chest of air cargo’s future and nobody else was ever getting near to it.
Blockchains? Blockheads more like.
Is IATA the only air transport body worthy of comment? Read here