Warning that air cargo bottlenecks could put lives at risk, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and its member airlines are pleading for governments to take urgent measures that allow vital supply lines to remain open, efficient and effective.
“Air cargo is a vital partner in the global fight against COVID-19,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said. “But we are still seeing examples of cargo flights filled with life-saving medical supplies and equipment grounded due to cumbersome and bureaucratic processes to secure slots and operating permits. These delays are endangering lives. All governments need to step up to keep global supply chains open.”
The COVID-19 crisis has grounded nearly the entire worldwide passenger air fleet that normally transports almost half of all air cargo shipments, IATA noted. This means airlines are scrambling to fill the gap between cargo demand and available lift by all means possible, including re-introducing freighter services and using passenger aircraft for cargo operations. To support these efforts, governments need to remove key obstacles, IATA stressed.
Ways to achieve that include introducing fast-track procedures for overflight and landing permits for cargo operations, particularly in key manufacturing hubs in Asia such as China, South Korea and Japan, in response to the increased number of cargo charters replacing withdrawn passenger operations. Governments can also exempt flight crew members who do not interact with the public from 14-day quarantine requirements to ensure cargo supply chains are maintained.
In addition, governments should support temporary traffic rights for cargo operations where restrictions may apply; remove economic impediments such as overflight charges, parking fees, and slot restrictions to support air cargo operations, and eliminate operating hour curfews for cargo flights to facilitate the most flexible global air cargo network operations.
“Around the world, the front-line health workers who fight against COVID-19 need to be continuously supplied with necessary medical equipment and protective material,” Paul Molinaro, chief of operations support and logistics for the World Health Organization, said. “It is our collective duty to keep these supply lines open by continuing air cargo operations. The scale-down of air passenger flow is seriously hurting our scheduled freight operations. We call on airline companies and governments to join the global effort to ensure dedicated freight capacity continues to operate on previously high-volume passenger routes that are now closed down.”
Airlines are taking extraordinary measures to ensure the flow of vital goods by air, IATA said. This includes Delta, American and United starting cargo-only flights, using passenger aircraft domestically and internationally to bolster depressed global airfreight capacity, while Air Canada, Aeromexico, Austrian, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Iberia, Korean, LATAM Lufthansa, Qantas, Scoot and Swiss have made some passenger aircraft in their fleets available for chartered cargo operations.
Ethiopian Airlines is playing a key role in transporting COVID-19 medical equipment through its hub to Africa’s 54 nations, including recently transporting equipment donated by the Jack Ma Foundation.
FedEx Express has helped the U.S. government transport COVID-19 test specimens from more than 50 remote drive-thru testing centers at major retailers across 12 states, and the UPS Foundation has expanded its relief response to coronavirus, delivering urgent medical supplies, food and housing, and financial assistance to aid in recovery efforts. FedEx and UPS have each said they continue to operate as normally as possible in the U.S., and, where allowed, internationally, to provide necessary cargo and parcel service.