After the month started off pretty gloomily, the UK has finally been blessed with some Summer sun. As I write this digest, I have two fans facing me – drinking hot coffee is a distant memory – and whilst the temperature rises, my ability to concentrate is simultaneously dropping. Potentially breaking UK temperature records, London is set to reach up to 39oC this week (w/c 22/07/2019), breaking the hottest temperature previously recorded at 36.7C during 2015. However, turning our attention to the latest in the freight industry, it’s not just the weather that seems to be heating up…

Ocean cargo has a green light for cleaner ships by maritime operators. Since switching from coal in the early 20th century, vessels have been burning some of the world’s dirtiest fuels out there. During the United Nations’ 2015 Paris Agreement* – a pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions – ship owners instead offered to make efforts to cut toxic fumes from ship stacks, all whilst still adhering to the International Maritime Organisation’s regulations. During the last three years, the shipping industry has made great progress in cutting emissions and producing cleaner-running ships. According to sources**, 1 January 2020 will mark the day that 60,000 ships will sharply reduce their sulphur emissions, some even switching to new low-sulphur fuel blends that are being currently developed. However, this new fuel is creating speculation, as it is said to add some $50 billion in new fuel costs over the next three-to-four years, and there may not be enough of it in time for the launch. Whilst the shipping industry is facing these problems, the IMO still plans to move forward, and IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim even states that the industry is ‘moving at full speed.’

This month has marked a propelled achievement for aerospace. Could electric airlines be the next big leap for freight? A five-passenger airline took flight near Los Angeles, and NASA have announced they will be launching an all-electric aircraft as part of their electric research plan, the X57, taking electric aerospace seriously. NASA are in the process of creating an all-electric commercial aeroplane, which will be the ‘Tesla of the skies.’ The almost-50-year-old plane was fitted with an electric motor – its function to power the propeller at the rear of the plane. NASA make plans to replace the plane’s twin engines with multiple electric-powered propellers along the length of the plane’s wings. Should the electric aeroplane be a success, operating costs could be reduced by 30%, claims NASA. This is a huge breakthrough for the freight industry as air is one of the most glamourised and fastest modes of freight, making it one of the worst in the industry for overall emissions. Once commercial electric aeroplanes have been successfully implemented, air cargo could be soon to follow.  

So why haven’t electric planes already taken off, as it were? Stating one of the most obvious factors: the amount of power a plane needs to operate. The amount of energy that would be required from a battery to power a plane flying internationally – whilst carrying tonnes of goods – would be incredibly high. To put things into perspective, a Boeing 747 alone uses approximately 1 gallon of fuel (about 4 litres) every second. Over the course of a 10-hour flight, it might burn 36,000 gallons (150,000 litres). With this in mind, the power that batteries would need to fuel a cargo-filled plane would be immense, and is difficult (and potentially not as economical as hoped at present). Another point to consider is the weight of batteries versus fuel. Fuel is burned throughout a journey, thus making the aircraft lighter and more economical towards the end of its journey than it is at the beginning. Batteries don’t work in a similar fashion, meaning that whether the battery is fully charged or empty, its weight doesn’t change. Recharging the batteries: how long will it take? Will they charge fast enough to keep up with the demands of airport traffic? If electric aeroplanes are viable, will the expense of the batteries affect how many electric aeroplanes can run?

Moving onto retail, the latest market research has revealed that online sales could double its share (versus highstreet) by 2028, making half of total retail sales online within the next 10 years. According to Charged (part of the Retail Gazette group), 73% of UK customers admitted to changing their mind over a purchase after seeing the size of the queue in the shop, and 71% claimed that they have also been frustrated with the online supermarket experience. It was expressed that shoppers would like an end-to-end service when shopping both in store and online, including elements of retail purchases such as payment, offers, loyalty cards and navigation. Retail is clearly becoming more and more digitalised, and physical stores are being forced to close down as a result. Whilst the process is becoming more demanding throughout the supply chain, retailers themselves are losing physical customer interest in favour of online browsers and buyers.

All in all, it’s been a lively month for the freight industry…

Rachel Jefferies, Editor, FORWARDER magazine  

* As of May 2019, 194 states and the European Union are currently signed to the Paris Agreement.
** E.g. The Wall Street Journal