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Leading lights - Vladimir Zubkov, Secretary General, TIACA

Vladimir Zubkov, TIACA’s new Secretary General, has more than 40 years’ experience in the air transport industry including senior roles with ICAO, and, most recently, as Vice President of the Volga-Dnepr Group.

He has been a member of the TIACA Board since 2011 and is the Chairman of the Industry Affairs Committee, as well as a member of the Global Air Cargo Advisory Group (GACAG) and the IATA Industry Affairs Committee. Before joining Volga-Dnepr in 2008, Zubkov spent over 20 years with ICAO, where he was Director of the Air Transport Bureau and later, Director of Planning and Global Coordination. He has a Master’s degree in Air Transport Management from the Civil Aviation Academy of Leningrad. 


What has it been like so far making the shift to your new role?


I come from a business which has 25 years’ experience of working on the air cargo markets. Also, before Volga-Dnepr I was working in Aeroflot, then one of the biggest world airlines, and later in ICAO, both of which are no strangers to the issues of the air cargo supply chain. However, it’s one thing to view TIACA from the outside – even being for several years on the TIACA Board – and it’s a different thing to be responsible for daily operations and the end result of multiparty efforts.


What do you think will be your biggest challenges in this role?


To make the importance of the air cargo industry better understood by the decision-makers both in the industry itself and in the institutions which are shaping up the global transport and trade environment. Quite a few years ago, in close partnership with IATA’s Glyn Hughes and Des Vertannes, we embarked on the campaign for popularisation of the air cargo industry. IATA had developed posters, we started including convincing figures in the presentations, but the effect was not that significant. We can’t do it alone. The governmental and multilateral organisations like ICAO, WCO, ITF, UPU are to become our committed partners. We have achieved the first level of recognition – top officials from ICAO and WCO take active part in the TIACA major meetings. Now we need to move further – to forge a real partnership in the development and implementation of the regulatory material and in the procedures on the ground.


Training is a part of it. However, there is not that much training material for the air cargo supply chain. IATA has courses – true, but what about those who are above the ‘doers’ in the supply chain, those who are making decisions on the allocation of the budgets and other resources, be it an airport, airline, an international organisation? How can we help them to better understand the needs of the industry? And not only understand but to take practical steps to enhance it?


What, if any, changes to strategy will you be making?


First – the strategy is the prerogative of the Board. I have a number of proposals which I already shared with the Board, even in my earlier role with TIACA. I can acknowledge good understanding which gives me a solid platform for moving in the directions already tested. One of them – strengthening of the TIACA positions in the regions where we are not well represented. Africa is one, Latin America is another. 


In Africa I am looking for strong partnerships with ICAO and regional development organisations. Together with ICAO we are preparing a specialised air cargo conference in Addis Ababa, the dates of which are soon to be confirmed. It’s the second African conference. I actively participated in the first one, in Lomé, Togo, in 2014 and will be suggesting that we come out of this one with concrete business cases for African states. It fits in the ICAO programme, No Country Left Behind (NCLB). Indeed, if you look at the level of development in the air cargo related infrastructure in Africa and in the countries which represent major markets for African produce, the gap is too apparent. I am suggesting taking steps to reduce this gap.


What are the most important lessons your previous roles at Volga-Dnepr and ICAO have taught you? 


Volga-Dnepr has been positioning itself as a ‘cargo supermarket’, evolving from a ‘fly-by-night’ cargo plane 25 years ago, into a major and most reliable charter operator, as well as a very prestigious scheduled airline, AirBridgeCargo, with the most modern fleet of Boeing 747-F planes and the largest order of those to be delivered in the coming years. It has established two more airlines: Atran – mostly for mail and smaller deliveries – and a young company in the UK, CargoLogicAir. So, any request for any service can be answered in the most professional way. Plus, there are facilities for maintenance in several countries, training schools, corporate universities, insurance companies, logistics centres – you name it – it’s all there. And yet, in relying on its own divisions, Volga-Dnepr has been establishing many alliances with aircraft and engine manufacturers, with governmental and private institutions, with all who matter in its business. The lesson is, you need to be diversified as much as you can be and at the same time you need to attain as many partners as you can, who are connected to you with mutual interest in mind.


ICAO’s lessons are from a different area. Most importantly, there are no big States, there are no small States. Same with companies and institutions. Be considerate and understanding to the needs of those who, today, have not reached your level of development. You still require them for the global solutions. Your airplane may have the most modern air navigation system, but without the air traffic controller on the ground far away from your homeland, trained and properly equipped, you will not obtain the best benefits of your own latest technology. 


What do you think the air cargo industry as a whole needs to focus on in 2017? 


We have many issues and have identified many solutions. The air cargo industry is fully aware of them and pretty much knows how to go about its business. At the conferences we mostly talk to the same cohort of people and have no or very few disagreements. However, there are officials in the institutions, above the industry, and they sometimes take decisions which are not promoting the efficient functioning of the supply chain. Some of them participate in the industry events, but the practice shows that it’s not sufficient. New ways of collaboration are to be found, and they are mostly in agreement. At the recent ACF in Paris I moderated the panel of senior officials from ICAO, WCO, TIACA and the European institutions. Everybody was unanimous in one conclusion: we must work together. In other forums, similar combinations of officials called for more engagement. When people make these statements consistently, it shows where we are lacking. This unanimity is the major step towards making these two slogans a reality.  


And what do you think will be the big issues for the cargo industry in the coming years? 


There are many – safety and security; establishing effective barriers for prevention of the existent and potential threats, such as fraud, mislabelling, incompetence and technology challenges, including communication methods, formats and channels; protection of information; the growth of belly capacity compared with all-cargo planes; electronic documentation within the bigger area of e-commerce, not to mention what e-commerce means to different operators; connectivity – ICAO has this as one of the priority issues for passenger traffic and we need to place air cargo in the same priority category as it involves improvements in the infrastructure, regulatory regimes and procedures; and finally, working together, engaging all the participants in the air cargo supply chain in one transparent and unimpeded process. >>

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