ACFI Annual Conclave 2023 concludes with critical takeaways for the industry

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Air Cargo Forum India (ACFI) hosted its Annual Conclave 2023 on 3rd May in Delhi, which was themed ‘Cargo Udaan – Empowering Indian Skies’. The aim of the event was to bring together members of the Air Cargo fraternity – India and international, policy makers, industry associations and other stakeholders, to discuss the current and anticipated challenges and opportunities that present themselves to the industry. 

Apart from the ACFI core team, the event was attended by Mr. Piyush Srivastava (Sr. Economic Advisor, MoCA), Ms. Jivisha Joshi (Special Secretary – DPIIT, MoCI), and Ms. Divya Satija (Consultant, MoCI) as the Guests of Honor. Mr. Glyn Hughes (Director General, The International Air Cargo Association) graced the event as the Keynote Speaker. 

The event was actuated with the ceremonial lamp lighting by the above mentioned dignitaries, along with Mr. Yashpal Sharma (President, ACFI), Mr. Sanjiv Edward (Vice-President, ACFI), Mr. Satish Lakkaraju (Chairman, ACFI Event Management Taskforce Pillar), Mr. Ramesh Mamidala (Secretary, ACFI), and Mr. Cyrus Katgara (Previous President, ACFI). 

Mr. Lakkaraju set the context for the event, and said ‘’The conclave brought together some of the best minds in the Indian air cargo industry and addressed the most critical challenges and opportunities in the market. ACFI as a forum aims to work on the strengths of the air freight industry, managing the nuances of international air cargo and leveraging the potential of domestic air cargo,’’ 

The keynote address was delivered by Mr. Hughes. He enumerated a few global air cargo statistics and shared his perspective on air cargo as an enabler of trade worldwide. He then addressed the unexplored potential of India’s air cargo industry and what are its future prospects. 

“What sets this market apart is the habit of saying ‘Yes’ to every opportunity, a supportive government, supportive industries, and a strong global consumer base. India is better placed and better poised to fill the void that may come if China is displaced from the world economy. The key is going in the right direction.” Glyn Hughes (Director General, TIACA)

Next on the day’s schedule was the President’s Address to the audience, during which Mr. Sharma gave an overview of India’s air cargo industry and elaborated on the role that air cargo has been playing, especially since the pandemic, towards improving India’s trade relations with the world. He did not fail to mention how the domestic air cargo network has connected the  country’s industrial, manufacturing and production hubs, with particular success in strengthening the pharma and perishables verticals. He also thanked the government for the forward looking approach they’ve adopted while developing growth initiatives and policies for the industry. 

“Investments from global companies are coming in, and the best names of the world are trying to source from Indian and manufacture in India. The pace of digitisation has been incredible in the last few years. The Government is working in a supportive manner with various initiatives to make India the most competitive trade partner for the world, on the back of Gati Shakti National Master Plan, National Logistics Policy, etc.”

After the President, it was time for the Guests of Honor to deliver their speeches. 

Mr. Srivastava said that the government is standing with the air cargo industry in times of turbulence, and talked about the plans around creating transshipment hubs in India. He urged everyone to take advantage of the Krishi Udan and also deploy freighters for the mutual growth of now only the industry but also the hinterland. “Work on the ideas that are generated during this event, and test them on the parameters of doability and desirability. Once you do that, bring those ideas to us so that the government and the industry can work towards those ideas in tandem for efficient implementation,” he said.

Ms. Joshi was the next to take up the dais and spoke extensively about the Government’s initiatives and policies that have been created to support India’s supply chain industry overall and as a part of it, the air cargo sector as well. She talked about the progress that the industry has made under the Gati Shakti National Masterplan and the Prime Minister’s vision for the industry with the National Logistics Policy 2023 as a tool. The country’s logistics cost estimates were also talked about and she said that the MoCI is in the process of determining the correct number so that it can be worked upon to make India more competitive on the global level. 

Thanking the ACFI for organising the Conclave, Ms. Satija said that it’s evident that the industry is making great strides, adding that the impact of initiatives taken by the government, like the PM Gati Shakti NMP, is already very much visible. The silos to some extent have been broken. She urged the supply chain industry members to collectively contribute towards furthering the PM’s vision of a multimodal nation.

Mr. Edward was evidently joyful and proud as he shared an overview of what ACFI is and what it stands for. He said that ACFI is a movement dedicated to air cargo and is realising its true value. He urged the industry to restore what air cargo has lost to the other modes of transportation, own our problems and take it on us to solve problems. 

Business Session 1 – Air Cargo: The Business Galvanizer

Moderator: Mr. Satish Lakkaraju (Chairman – Event management Task Pillar and Global Head of Air Freight, WIZ Freight)

Speakers: Mr. Pradeep Panicker (President & Chief Executive Officer, GMR Hyderabad International Airport), Dr. Sudhanshu (Secretary, APEDA), Ms. Sadhika Kumar (COO, Lynkit Solutions), and Mr. Kunal Bhatt (Consultant Cargo – Commercial, TATA Air India)

“Perishables play an important role in an agrarian economy like India. It becomes important when the overall supply chain needs to be strengthened. Better services at the airport – including all the steps from cargo arriving to customs clearance – are needed, from the point of view of the exporter, to keep the quality of the produce intact. There shouldn’t be any loose ends in that sense.”

Dr. Sudhanshu (Secretary, APEDA)

Business Session 2 – International Air Cargo: Opportunities and Challenges

Moderator: Mr. Sanjiv Edward (Vice President ACFI & Vice-President, ACFI & Chief Commercial Officer, Delhi International Airport Ltd.)

Speakers: Mr. Vipul Bhalla (CBO, Pradhaan Air Express), Mr. Mark Sutch (CCO – Cargo (International), IndiGo), Mr. Ramesh Mamidala (Head Cargo – Commercial, Air India) and Mr. Arun Chandra (AVP – Aviation Business, BIAL)

“The biggest challenge for air cargo is the economic environment and what is being projected across the board. I think at all times people tend to forget what’s coming around the corner. It might seem that we had a fair amount of challenges in terms of how business cycles operate, or the fear of recession or how the supply chain is under pressure. We need to understand how we can take advantage of what’s coming for us.”

Mr. Vipul Bhalla (CBO, Pradhaan Air Express)

Business Session 3 – Domestic Air Cargo: Leveraging the Potential of Indian Domestic Cargo

Moderator: Mr. Keku Bomi Gazder (ACFI Governing Board Member, and MD & CEO, Aviapro Logistic Services)

Speakers: Mr. Ajith Pai (CEO, Delhivery), Mr. Ravi Prakash Mathur (VP and Global Head of Logistics and Supply Chain Excellence, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories), Mr. Kamal Hingorani (Chief Officer – Cargo, SpiceXpress), Mr. Vasuki Prasad (Sales Director Asia Pacific – Commercial Aviation, EMBRAER Asia Pacific), Mr. Gaurav Ghuwalewala (Executive Committee Member, Domestic Air Cargo Agents Association (DACAAI))

“The customer being a point of focus is one thing that wasn’t discussed across any sessions today. Air cargo, instead of being a facilitator, may end up being a constraint in the entire gamut of the supply chain, unless we look at certain mega trends that are happening around us.”

Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur (VP and Global Head of Logistics and Supply Chain Excellence, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories)

The conference highlighted the need for India to build and improve its current infrastructure, connect Indian airports to shippers through modern highways and local connectivity, integrate different modes of transport, adopt innovative technologies, simplify regulations and invest in skill development.

ACFI Annual Conclave 2023 was a resounding success and managed to get a viewership of more than 500 people attending physically as well as virtually. The event provided a platform for various stakeholders to come together, share their experiences, and collaborate to drive the growth of the Indian air cargo industry. The Conclave 2023 was an essential step towards connecting and empowering Indian skies to become a significant player in the global air cargo industry.