Air freight plays a decisive role in the fight against COVID-19 

“Maintaining the financial and functional operability of the global aviation system is a matter of urgency in order to establish a path towards a recovery from the economic hardships caused by COVID-19. Worldwide air transport connectivity stimulates economies through employment, trade and tourism, and supports states in achieving the Agenda 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

(Salvatore Sciacchitano, ICAO Council President)

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Air freight is key to minimising, and possibly resolving, the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The cargo sector is particularly key with regard to medical equipment and pharmaceutical items, and IATA points out that since the crisis began, air cargo has been a vital partner in delivering much-needed medicines, medical equipment (including spare parts/repair components), and in keeping global supply chains functioning for the most time-sensitive materials. This has been done through dedicated cargo freighter operations, utilisation of cargo capacity in passenger aircraft and with relief flights to affected areas. Air cargo is also instrumental in transporting food and other products purchased online in support of quarantine and social distancing policies implanted by states. 

However the dramatic travel restrictions and collapse of passenger demand have severely limited cargo capacity. IATA is calling on governments to take urgent measures to ensure that air cargo will be available to support the global fight against the virus.

A vivid example: A few days ago 20 tonnes of urgent medical equipment and supplies were flown in at Malpensa Airport from Shanghai on special China Eastern Airlines charter flights. Cargo handling specialists at airports around the world are playing a vital role in helping governments and the healthcare sector deal with the urgent medical response to the outbreak of Covid-19.

About half of the air cargo carried worldwide normally flies in the belly of passenger jets rather than in dedicated freighters. Almost all passenger flights have been cancelled since the beginning of this week in response to government travel restrictions. With this, vital cargo capacity has disappeared when it is most urgently needed in the fight against COVID-19.. The world’s fleet of freighter aircraft has been mobilized to make up this capacity shortfall. Governments must take urgent measures to ensure that vital supply lines remain open, efficient and effective.

That is why IATA is asking urgently for a series of action by governments which it sees as an essential part of the fight against the infection. These include:

  • Exclude air cargo operations from any covid-19-related travel restrictions, to ensure life-saving medical products can be transported without disruption.

  • Ensure that standardised measures are in place so that air cargo can continue to move around the world with minimal disruptions.
  • Exempt air cargo crew members, who do not interact with the public, from 14-day quarantine requirements.
  • Support temporary traffic rights for cargo operations where restrictions may apply.

  • Remove economic impediments, such as overfly charges, parking fees, and slot restrictions to support air cargo operations during these unprecedented times.

The points were emphasised by Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, who commented:

”Air cargo carriers are working closely with governments and health organisations around the world to safeguard public health while also keeping the global economy moving. Today, as we fight a global health war against covid-19, governments must take urgent action to facilitate air cargo. Keeping cargo flowing will save lives.”

The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) has highlighted the decisive role that the air cargo industry has to play in the fight against the virus and has called for the industry’s voice to be heard fully by regulators and governments across the globe to take measures to allow air cargo to continue to circulate around the world.

“We support IATA’s appeal to have air cargo recognised as vital in the fight against COVID-19 and for action to be taken – in particular, removing all travel restrictions on air cargo operations” (Steven Polmans, TIACA Chairman)

In the current crisis, TIACA has emphasized that air freight is essential for the transport of food, basic necessities and health-related products – essentially, everything necessary for people to survive. Additionally, the global economy needs air freight to continue to supply businesses and factories.

Air freight rates are skyrocketing

One factor that hinders the situation is the inconsistencies present in the supply chain to and from different countries and of course any cutting of services and the resultant loss of volume available for cargo is likely to lead to rising shipping rates as the world economy shrinks but the demand for vital urgent supplies increases. Air freight rates are skyrocketing in Asia and has left shippers scrambling to book limited spots on cargo planes as Chinese industrial production restarts, according to industry insiders.

Air freight volumes have started to recover in China

Freight Investor Services said in an update to clients this week that cargo pricing on China-to-U.S. routes had reached “abnormal highs” and that intra-Asia traffic was up by 22% over the previous week. The price surge will benefit freight haulers and help cargo-heavy Asian airlines like Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and Japan’s ANA offset some of the steep revenue losses from halting many of their passenger flights. DHL’s express volumes have also started to recover in China and the company is putting planes back into the network, Deutsche Post finance chief Melanie Kreis said on Tuesday, noting that its fleet is a major asset given the grounding of many passenger planes. In mainland China, the number of freighter arrivals has increased in recent weeks as factories resumed production.

(Sources: TIACA, IATA, Handyshippingguide).