(Updated Oct. 8, 6:37 P.M. ET with comments from United Cargo’s Jan Krems)
Michael White plans to retire as president of Cargo Network Services (CNS) at the end of December after 42 years in the air cargo industry, he said in an interview.
CNS, a subsidiary of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), represents the air cargo industry in the U.S. and provides payment processing, consulting and market data services to members. Before COVID, the company held an annual conference that was well attended by airlines and freight forwarders looking for business and learning opportunities.
White, 65, originally planned to retire in July but stayed on longer to help IATA through the coronavirus crisis. He is taking a voluntary separation package offered by IATA as part of a broader downsizing to reduce costs at a time when airlines are struggling to survive from the loss of travel business caused by the pandemic.
As previously reported, Geneva-based IATA is cutting headcount by a fifth. Other cargo experts, besides White, who are leaving include Glyn Hughes, global head of cargo, and Gordon Wright, who leads cargo border management. Eric Leopold, IATA’s director of industry strategy, announced his resignation on LinkedIn two weeks ago.
The CNS board will look internally within IATA for his replacement, White said. “IATA has a lot of good people in cargo still. It’s time for others to take the helm. Yeah, there will be a learning curve. There was a learning curve when I came on.”
White spent 12 years at CNS. Before taking over as president in February 2018 after the departure of Lionel van der Walt, he was vice president of government and industry relations. Previously he led the company’s activities related to cargo facilitation, security and standards.
His operational expertise, combined with his understanding of policy and regulatory levers, made him a valued liaison who spoke the language of industry and gave air cargo a voice in Washington.
White has served nearly six years on U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Commercial Operations Advisory Committee, which provides industry feedback on Customs and Department of Homeland Security programs and policies that impact international trade. He has also worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration.
Among his accomplishments was getting IATA’s e-freight program off the ground in the U.S. and convincing airfreight companies of the need to adopt paperless processes.
“Under Mike’s leadership, forwarders and their international airline partners have achieved significant milestones together, especially working in Washington with lawmakers and regulatory agencies,” Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwaders Association, said in an email.
“Forwarders are concerned about the apparent loss of cargo experts from the IATA and CNS organizations. Air cargo has proven to be essential during this dreadful pandemic, making capable and robust leadership within IATA and all industry associations critical at this time,” he added.
Fried said the Airforwarders Association remains committed to cooperation with IATA and CNS and invited them to consider merging the CNS Partnership Conference into the annual AirCargo Conference and Exposition.
“Together we can attract more forwarders and international carriers to provide more networking opportunities while helping them save travel-related expenses of attending two separate but essential industry events,” Fried said.
On LinkedIn, former colleagues said White was adept at managing multinational teams, bringing together stakeholders and dealing with complex regulatory problems.
He started in the industry at 18 and worked his way up the ranks, taking on new positions or assignments that saw him live in more than two dozen locations around the world.
During the 1990s, White took on increasing responsibilities at United Airlines Cargo (NASDAQ: UAL), culminating in management of cargo services planning and product development. He then spent almost six years as managing director of cargo for what is now Airlines for America (A4A), the largest trade association for the domestic airline industry.
Well wishers said it will be difficult to imagine the air cargo industry without White’s expertise and guidance.
“Mike has dedicated himself to the air cargo industry for decades. Not just in roles such as leading CNS or at A4A, but also leading operations at airlines, like United, as well as cargo ground handling companies. Through his experiences in various aspects of our industry, Mike became a renowned and respected voice worldwide. He has always fought for what is right and for what bolsters and protects air cargo,” United Cargo President Jan Krems said.
White said he will continue to be involved in the air cargo sector.
“I’m going to continue doing things, just maybe not as much. Everybody knows I love air cargo. I’ll continue to have that passion for the industry,” he said.