Navigating a greener sky: Forging sustainability pathways in air cargo

Published: Monday, September 18, 2023

Amidst the shifting horizons of air cargo dynamics, where speed and efficiency have long stood as foundational principles, a new imperative is ascending – that of sustainability.

With demands for goods rising as the global population increases, so are the environmental challenges that come with abuse of nature.
Climate change or the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns have caused unprecedented flash floods, droughts, wildfires, super strong typhoons, landslides, and heat waves, among many other unforeseen calamities, across continents. Sea levels are also rising and oceans are becoming warmer. These phenomena have devastating economic impacts in billions, often with irreversible consequences to the displaced population.
With this, industries, including that of air cargo, find themselves at a crossroads to redefine their activities with a more ecologically conscious future in mind.
The air cargo sector stands at a pivotal juncture, where the rapid growth in worldwide goods requisition converges with an urgent call for environmental responsibility. Against the backdrop of climate change challenges, it must harmonize its role in economic development with responsible practices that curtail its ecological impact.

In this story, Air Cargo Update delves into the profound insights shared by distinguished industry authorities – Yossi Shoukroun, the CEO of Challenge Group, and Elisabeth Oudkerk, the Senior Vice President of Cargo Sales and Network Planning at Qatar Airways. Through their perspectives, we shed light on the path leading to sustainable air cargo operations.

Sustainable Logistics: Merging Efficiency and Ecology
Yossi Shoukroun, the CEO of Challenge Group, advocates for a holistic approach to sustainable logistics. “Low-emissions ground vehicles and alternative aviation fuels (SAF) are pivotal for our industry’s future,” Shoukroun emphasizes. He stresses the importance of packaging innovation and minimizing single-use plastics to reduce environmental impact. This approach optimizes fleet utilization while reducing the carbon footprint.
Elisabeth Oudkerk, in her role as Senior Vice President of Cargo Sales and Network Planning at Qatar Airways, echoes this sentiment. “Introducing innovative technologies across air cargo operations and infrastructure, properly eliminating packaging waste, reducing single-use plastics, reducing fuel and energy consumption, optimizing logistics strategies, and using lighter weight materials can contribute greatly to every airline’s operational performance and efficiency,” Oudkerk elaborates. This comprehensive perspective highlights the multifaceted strategies that air cargo leaders are employing to minimize their ecological footprint.

Collaboration and Data Synergy: Charting Sustainable Routes
Addressing the complexity of air cargo operations, Shoukroun champions collaboration. “Effective data sharing enhances route optimization and significantly reduces our environmental impact,” he states. By fostering cooperation, industry can collectively tackle challenges and enhance sustainability.
Oudkerk underlines the importance of collaboration’s role in addressing climate change emissions. “As climate change is a global issue, working in collaboration with other stakeholders is critical to addressing what is considered one of the biggest global environmental challenges,” she asserts. Qatar Airways Cargo is aligned with global industry goals and objectives to address this challenge. Collaboration and data sharing can significantly benefit air cargo operations.
By sharing real-time data on demand, capacity, and weather conditions, stakeholders can optimize routes, reduce empty flights, and enhance sustainability. This enables more efficient route planning, better resource allocation, and reduced fuel consumption.

Greener Packaging: From Innovation to Action
Sustainable packaging plays a vital role in the journey towards sustainability. Shoukroun’s Challenge Group leads the charge in minimizing packaging waste. “Exploring lighter, environmentally conscious equipment and introducing reusable packaging solutions exemplify our commitment,” he notes. By reducing single-use plastics and embracing eco-friendly materials, industry demonstrates a conscientious approach to minimizing its ecological impact.
Oudkerk underscores the initiatives in sustainable packaging. “A major initiative in sustainable packaging in air cargo is to swap single-use plastic (SUP) for reusable plastic, biodegradable and bioplastic, cardboard, and paper,” she states. The industry’s shift towards sustainable packaging materials is a proactive step to align with the growing demand for environmentally conscious transportation solutions.

Eco-Efficiency and Technological Innovations: Redefining Sustainability
Advancements in aircraft technology hold the key to reshaping sustainability efforts. Shoukroun envisions a future that integrates eco-efficient operational technology. “The introduction of twin-jet aircraft to our fleet signifies our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint,” he affirms. With aircraft like the B767 BDSF and the B777, industry can usher in a new era of greener skies.
Oudkerk mirrors this sentiment, focusing on Qatar Airways Cargo’s young and fuel-efficient fleet. “Our mix of modern and fuel-efficient aircraft generates lower emissions and less noise,” she explains. Qatar Airways Cargo’s investment in engineering improvement packages for airframes and engines underscores their commitment to greener operations. This transition towards greener aircraft technology exemplifies the industry’s dedication to environmental responsibility while meeting evolving commerce needs.

Transparency and Trust: The Heart of Sustainability
In a world driven by climate-conscious consumers, the air cargo sector must enhance transparency and communication. Shoukroun emphasizes open dialogue. “By sharing data and engaging transparently with clients, we foster trust,” he notes. Transparent communication paves the way for lasting partnerships built on shared values.
Oudkerk reinforces this commitment, highlighting the significance of environmental leadership. “Transparency in the supply chain can help an organization improve its credibility and build customer trust,” she says. Qatar Airways Group openly communicates its environmental performance through sustainability reports, fostering trust and promoting a culture of responsible environmental stewardship.

The Future of Sustainable Air Cargo: Embracing Technological Advancements
As the air cargo industry adapts to the demands of sustainability, technological innovations are pivotal. Oudkerk envisions a future where AI and data analytics play a central role. “The use of digital twins, AI-driven forecasting, and robotic systems are some of the innovations poised to drive the industry forward,” she says. By harnessing the power of data and AI, Qatar Airways Cargo aims to optimize processes, enhance decision-making, and deliver an even better customer experience.
In addition, Oudkerk highlights the growing importance of blockchain technology. “Blockchain promises enhanced transparency and security in air cargo transactions,” she explains. By creating a tamper-resistant and decentralized ledger, blockchain technology can streamline the flow of information and reduce processing time, ultimately benefiting the entire supply chain.

Charting a Sustainable Path Forward
The air cargo industry stands at the cusp of transformation, driven by the insights of Yossi Shoukroun and Elisabeth Oudkerk. The journey towards sustainability demands collective action, innovation, and collaboration.
As the industry integrates sustainable practices, it paves a path toward responsible growth. Through eco-friendly technologies, partnerships, and a minimized ecological footprint, the air cargo sector charts a course toward vibrant skies that reflect the values of a changing world.