Air cargo provides a lesson in enlightened staff motivation

THE JUXTAPOSITION of a string of record-breaking second-quarter financial results — reported by some major airlines and large freight forwarders — could not be more ironic than when compared with the current industrial unrest at sea ports and strikes of disgruntled ground staff at airports, and even some pilots, depending on how Lufthansa’s negotiations unfold this week, writes Thelma Etim.

The current volatile employment climate, which continues to strangulate the air transport industry, mirrors unrest in other business sectors with many nations now struggling with similar labour shortages, higher costs of living, exorbitant energy prices — many of which are direct ramifications of both the Coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Whilst many bosses are solely blaming the pandemic and the Ukraine war for the current fall-out, is it now time for some of the industry’s managers to take a long hard look at the way they recruit and retain employees?

This question will naturally fall on the deaf ears of those interested only in protecting their bottom lines at any cost, but this current personnel crisis is evidence that such a short-sighted approach to employment at best temporally halts operations or, at worst, destabilises a business sector.

In this era, where digitalisation is increasing advantageous for businesses, can employers afford to risk having the end-to-end flow of e-commerce shipments hampered by conducting operations with fewer, poorly trained and poorly-paid staff?

I may be stating the obvious, but the small matters of respect, appreciation, fair remuneration, training and an achievable career path, all surely beat all the short-term, myopic gains of the past. Ask yourself why so many global transport industry companies are now struggling to recruit people worldwide. The answer is obvious.

One great example of the opposite of this approach is that of parcels giant UPS which was one of the first air cargo businesses to offer its employees the ownership of shares in the company. Not surprisingly, this decision taken many years ago has given all UPS employees an additional reason and incentive to see the company succeed and it explains why so many long-term staff, including truck drivers, are now financially well-off.

Clearly, such inclusivity reveals those owners which publicly acknowledge that without the co-operative and committed staff executing their roles expertly, then the business is vulnerable.

Coincidently, Zacks Investment Research, which specialises in stock research, analysis and share purchasing recommendations, is now advising that its subscribers consider UPS, FedEx and Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) as “three airfreight and cargo stocks to watch”.

The research and markets company reports: “Among the airfreight and cargo players, UPS and FedEx announced dividend hikes even during the Coronavirus-induced uncertainty in 2021, thus highlighting their pro-shareholder stance.”

Continuing this shareholder-favoured attitude, FedEx raised its dividend by 53 per cent to US$1.15 per share in June 2022. “In July, UPS’s board of directors decided to increase its current-year share buyback target to $3billion from $2bn,” the company adds.

There’s an obvious lesson for all the rest.

Read more of Thelma’s columns here

Originally published at on August 1, 2022.



I am the editor of air cargo industry news website, an alternative news and comment outlet for the global airfreight business.

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Thelma Etim

Thelma Etim

I am the editor of air cargo industry news website, an alternative news and comment outlet for the global airfreight business.