4 Air Cargo Challenges to Overcome in 2023

Feb. 28, 2023
What are the most pressing air cargo challenges to face this year? Learn about four of them here.

This year will undoubtedly bring many air cargo challenges. However, mitigating the associated effects will be easier when people know about and prepare for those obstacles. Here are some of the most likely difficulties affecting this year.

Uncertainty in the Economy and Industry

Many air cargo challenges stem from potentially adverse patterns in the economic and industrial outlook. For example, the Air Transport Services Group indicated both Amazon and DHL had reduced their flight schedules for contracted fleets in 2023. However, the company clarified it has continued to see strong demand for leased aircraft. The company expected growth moderation due to the lower flight utilization levels.

Data from The International Air Transport Association found year-over-year growth declined for international and global demand in all studied regions except Latin America during 2022. Another takeaway revealed months of stagnation or shrinkage in global new export orders. Most major economies experienced shrinkage. The United States, Japan and Germany were the only countries to break the trend and grow.

Recent news in Germany showed those fluctuations are not the only air cargo challenges that could have significant ramifications. A wage dispute between public sector employees and a trade union organization affected seven commercial airports in the country, stopping almost all activity at those locations.

These events slowed the movement of goods and made transportation more complex. For example, they required substantial volumes of products to be driven to airports abroad and loaded onto aircraft there. That was particularly problematic for temperature-sensitive goods and humanitarian aid sent to Syria and Turkey.

People have also already seen how the Ukraine invasion has negatively affected air cargo volumes and caused some providers to plan different routes. There’s no end in sight to that conflict, so it’s also highly likely it’ll continue posing issues for the industry in 2023.

Air Cargo Challenges Related to Digitalization

Professional shippers must handle and correctly fill out paperwork before goods can be sent to their destinations. For example, a safety data sheet (SDS) contains 16 sections detailing information about potentially hazardous materials. People must specify first aid and firefighting measures, ingredient composition and hazard statements for these goods if shipped by air or ground.

It would be more convenient to digitize SDS and all other necessary documents, eliminating any risk of the paperwork getting lost or damaged. However, making that happen may be more difficult than expected, and widespread progress won’t happen quickly. People only need to look at the air cargo challenges associated with adopting electronic air waybills to understand the difficulties of going fully digital with documents.

Nine shipping lines have agreed to have fully digital bills of lading by 2030. A bill of lading is the equivalent of an air waybill for sea shipments. That seems like good news and, eventually, it should be. However, people from the air cargo sector with firsthand experience in digital documentation expect difficulties. Most companies in the industry use electronic air waybills now, although the transition started in 2005.

Moreover, the air cargo sector’s digital transition is still underway. In February 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe released technical specification guidance for air cargo companies still working on digitalization strategies. The view was that digital documents enable a contactless future that increases the air cargo sector’s resilience during future pandemics, increased e-commerce volumes or other obstacles.

The Need for Improved Sustainability

People are increasingly aware that many choices made now will affect future generations. Airlines frequently explore options for reducing carbon emissions. Representatives realize progress on this front will go a long way toward reaching long-term sustainability gains. One area of attention concerns getting items to their destinations through nontraditional channels. People are particularly interested in what drones can do.

Drone deliveries could become less energy and carbon-intensive and impressively quick. The speed factor is one of the reasons companies have experimented with drones delivering groceries and medical supplies. However, work is underway to explore the potential of other kinds of autonomous aircraft.

MightyFly recently received certification to use its autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles for middle- and last-mile deliveries. The aircraft reaches a maximum speed of 150 mph and has a 600-mile range. It also carries up to 45 kilograms. The aircraft features eight electric fans that give it the necessary vertical lift. VTOL vehicles are not automatically more sustainable than other options, but early work suggests they could be more eco-friendly, especially for short journeys.

Companies have also started overcoming sustainability-related air cargo challenges by using eco-friendly fuels. For example, Japan’s Nippon Cargo Airlines began using a sustainably sourced option. It reduces emissions by up to 80% over the fuel’s life cycle compared to conventional possibilities.

Researchers also conducted a study showing that sustainability can happen at various stages of the air cargo process. They confirmed that each step has associated eco-friendly and safety aspects. How people handle them can negatively or positively affect the environment and overall safety. Moreover, the paper’s authors pointed out that a green focus can also improve societal and economic results.

Cybersecurity Risks Posing Air Cargo Challenges

Recent events have highlighted how many parts of the supply chain are still too fragile. It’s easy for ripple effects to occur, resulting in delays, widespread unavailability, worker shortages and other problems that hurt profitability and operations.

Industry professionals should also add cyberattacks to the list of things that could disrupt workflows. A 2023 World Economic Forum study showed 93% of cybersecurity professionals and 86% of business leaders believe in the possibility of a catastrophic cyberattack within the next two years due to geopolitical instability.

That’s not to say cybercriminals would target the cargo sector, but it makes sense they’d prioritize it; the goal is usually for cyberattacks to cause the most damage possible. Orchestrating an incident where goods can’t travel or don’t reach their intended destinations would severely impact virtually every industry worldwide.

Cybersecurity experts have already warned how hackers could target cargo planes or ships. Online criminals also go after logistics companies, so extensive or prolonged service outages are not far-fetched.

Leaders at air cargo companies should use part of 2023 to review their current cybersecurity strategies and commit to improving weaknesses. People cannot expect to thwart all cyber-risks this year, but they can at least start getting meaningful results that put them closer to that larger goal.

Awareness Is the First Step Toward Action

Multiple challenges can seem overwhelming. However, people must know about them before they can start tackling them. These four obstacles are some of the most prominent factors shaping 2023. Learning about them paves the way to effective action that reduces unwanted effects.

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About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.