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Air Cargo Set to Play Vital Role in COVID-19 Mitigation and Recovery

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Monday that while the organization and its members continue to support governments in their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, it called on them to take urgent measures to ensure that air cargo will be available to support the global fight against the global pandemic.

Since the crisis began, air cargo has been a vital partner in delivering much-needed medicines and medical equipment, IATA said, and in keeping global supply chains functioning for the most time-sensitive materials. This has been done through dedicated cargo freighter operations, utilization 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 implemented by states. The dramatic travel restrictions and collapse of passenger demand have severely limited cargo capacity.

“Over 185,000 passenger flights have been cancelled since the end of January in response to government travel restrictions,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said. “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,” de Juniac added. “Governments must take urgent measures to ensure that vital supply lines remain open, efficient and effective.”

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Governments must see air cargo as an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, IATA said, and take actions that include excluding air cargo operations from any pandemic-related travel restrictions, to ensure life-saving medical products can be transported without disruptions, as well as ensuring that standardized measures are in place so that air cargo can continue to move around the world with minimal disruptions.

IATA also called on governments to 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, and remove economic impediments, such as overfly charges, parking fees and slot restrictions, to support air cargo operations during these unprecedented times.

“Air cargo carriers are working closely with governments and health organizations around the world to safeguard public health, while also keeping the global economy moving,” de Juniac said. “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.”

Logistics giants are feeling the effects of the global health emergency, too.

Since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, UPS has maintained delivery services except where limited by government restrictions, the parcel and cargo carrier said Monday.

“We have also worked in partnership with governments around the world to obtain exceptions that allow our shipments to continue in restricted areas,” the company said. “Our network planning and operations teams are experienced with adapting to changing conditions, and we are developing contingency plans to address potential sources of disruption in our air and ground networks.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated that the likelihood of the COVID-19 virus contaminating cardboard or other shipping containers is low, IATA said. If there is a concern, disinfecting the shipment or using protective apparel when unwrapping the container will reduce the risk of exposure.

A March 5 analysis shows a forecast for 2020 global revenue losses for the passenger air business of between $63 billion and $113 billion due to the coronavirus, ranging from best- to worst-case scenarios, IATA said.

In the worst-case “extensive spread” scenario, IATA predicted a 19 percent loss in worldwide passenger revenues, which equates to $113 billion. Financially, that would be on a scale equivalent to what the industry experienced in the Great Recession.

Governments are taking disparate approaches to managing air cargo and traffic. Lebanon currently requires air cargo to remain grounded for 8 hours after landing due concerns around the virus, according to a report Monday from Resilience360, a supply chain risk analysis firm.

Argentina, Panama and Peru have closed their borders and suspended transport by air and sea, the firm said, while Russia, Namibia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Israel, Algeria and Kuwait have all announced additional flight suspensions.