Air cargo carriers, freight forwarders, truckers, and all involved in the logistics supply chain are working to ensure essential equipment and supplies reach their destination.

There are many innovative examples of air cargo working to fight COVID-19 and to keep the world economy moving. For example, Croatian Airlines has operated a charter flight from Abu Dhabi to Zagreb carrying critical medical equipment, and  China Eastern delivered a significant amount of medical supplies to support doctors in Italy.

Meanwhile, Airlink, a non-profit organization working with aviation and logistics partners has transported 16,127lbs. of medical supplies and food aid to help the COVID-19 relief effort. Airbus has transported 2 million face masks from China to Europe on a test A330-800 aircraft—of which most will be donated to France and Spain.

“Air cargo is a vital partner in the global fight against COVID-19. 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “These delays are endangering lives. All governments need to step up to keep global supply chains open.” 

IATA is working with governments to ensure goods can move efficiently. Some countries recognized the need for air cargo up front and exempted air cargo from airspace restrictions. However, other countries, such as Somalia, issued a full closure of their airspace while IATA has worked to get revisions in place so that food and emergency supplies can land safely.

IATA is also calling for temporary traffic rights for cargo operations where restrictions may apply, the removal of overflight charges, parking fees, and slot restrictions, and the suspension of operational curfews to enable a flexible network at this critical time.

Other isolated issues are complicating the landscape. For example, Indian cargo handling has been affected by the country’s total lockdown even though India is a major producer of paracetamol-based products that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of COVID-19 for home care.

Approximately half of air cargo was carried in the belly of passenger aircraft. With most passenger flights grounded, freighters are in high demand and many passenger aircraft are being used for cargo-only flights. Even though the industry is playing its part to increase capacity, governments must do more to remove unnecessary obstacles.

Fast track procedures for overflight and landing permits for cargo operations are essential, particularly in key manufacturing hubs in Asia.

More must also be done for cargo crew. They must be allowed to get home and so be exempt from quarantine restrictions assuming they follow social distancing guidelines.

IATA is also calling for temporary traffic rights for cargo operations where restrictions may apply, the removal of overflight charges, parking fees, and slot restrictions, and the suspension of operational curfews to enable a flexible network at this critical time.

Current operations are proving more expensive as there is often a need to deep clean an aircraft and extra crews are onboard because of quarantine issues.   

As it stands, about a 10% reduction occurred in global RTKs in February. Obviously, March will see a far greater reduction.

“Air cargo is on the front line, not only fighting COVID-19 but ensuing that global supply chains are maintained for the most time-sensitive materials including food and other products purchased online in support of quarantine and social distancing policies implemented by states. But we can only continue to do this if we work together with the support of governments. Keeping supply lines open also supports jobs in local economies for example producers of perishables in Africa and Latin America. We are stronger together,” said Glyn Hughes, IATA Global Head of Air Cargo.

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