An extraordinary quarter century

It was long ago and far away, and the air cargo industry was very different from how it is today. Peter Conway looks at the world Payload Asia was born into, and at how things have changed since.

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What an extraordinary year for air cargo was 1984, the year that Payload Asia was launched. Picture the air freight world as it was then. Reeling from the deregulation of the US airline industry in 1977, and the rise of FedEx and UPS, the US carriers were taking the revolutionary step of abandoning their freighter fleets. FedEx and UPS themselves were just taking their first tentative steps outside the US, settingup their first hubs in Europe.

In Asia, freighter fleets were in their infancy: European carriers still dominated the market, and a cargo manager in London Heathrow could still feel as if he was at the centre of the air freight world.

In the Middle East, Dubai was still little more than a village, where everyone knew everyone, and the only high rise building was the World Trade Centre.Dubai airport’s throughput was no more than 50,000 tonnes, and Emirates Airlineshad not yet been launched.

Whether you were based in London, New York, Hong Kong or Dubai, everyone agrees it was a friendly industry in those days, where business was done over a drink and sealed on a handshake. Stan Wraight, later head of AirBridge Cargo and now an independent consultant, remembers that at Heathrow, lunches lasted two and a half hours, and a head for the UK’s strange bitter beer was essential.