With the worldwide push to lessen the environmental impact of air cargo, among other modes of logistics transportation, several steps are being taken to make the goal of a reduction in CO2 emissions a reality.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), claims that air transport as a whole contributes 2% of global carbon emissions, whereas maritime shipping contributes double that at 4%.

IATA Communications Manager Marcin Cichy explained the organisation is taking several steps in attempt to lessen the problem. “IATA addresses the global challenge of climate change and has set out three targets that are aimed to mitigate CO2 from air transport, namely: an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020, a cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth), and a reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels,” Cichy explained.

Air cargo is big business generating 9% of airline revenues, according to IATA statistics provided by Cichy. Over 52 million metric tons of cargo are transported by airlines every year, accounting for US$6.8 trillion worth of goods annually, reported IATA.

The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), a coalition of aviation industry experts who focus on sustainable development issues, says that aviation is responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources, compared to 74% from road transport. Air transport is responsible for over 35% by value of world trade shipments, even though it is only 0.5% of the volume, according to ATAG. The items shipped via air cargo are generally perishable and time sensitive, therefore of high value, ATAG reported.

IATA continues to work to strengthen programs, develop new ones and take specific actions to reduce environmental pollution. “When it comes to cargo, IATA is involved in developing long-term strategies that help achieve a sustainable industry,” Cichy said. One of the programs is the Air Cargo Carbon Footprint, which measures the carbon footprint of cargo, actively works to reduce fuel consumption by reducing weight on board, going paperless with e-freight, investing in lightweight Unit Load Devices (ULDs), modernising fleet, the use of biofuels and making cargo operations more efficient, said Cichy.

Additionally, IATA’s Simplifying the Business (StB) Cargo program prioritises change in areas of digitisation, visibility and safety, said Cichy. It also focuses on longer-term innovation to further promote efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of air cargo. The program includes six areas of emphasis, including:

  • Going paperless with e-freight and e-air waybill
  • Embracing smart data sharing with ONE Record, a proposed standard for sharing data and providing a view of a single virtual shipment record
  • Making cargo talk with Interactive Cargo (Status data sent automatically from ULD)
  • Transparency in cargo handling facilities through Smart Facility
  • Supporting data-driven improvement programs through Air Cargo Incident Data (ACID)
  • Simplifying and modernising connectivity via Cargo Connect

IATA is also exploring two other projects, Fast Cargo and Modern Cargo Distribution.