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News Article

Air Cargo: Ally in the Fight Against COVID-19

By Alicia Arizpe | Wed, 05/06/2020 - 12:12

Measures put in place to fight the COVID-19 outbreak have led to numerous cancellations of passenger flights around the globe, causing significant trouble for airlines. Meanwhile, cargo flights are grabbing the spotlight due to their importance in transporting life-saving medical supplies. Airlines are adapting to the new status quo by adapting their aircraft as cargo flights are booming.

The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of the global supply chain for the transportation of foodstuffs, medicines and medical supplies. In early march, when the crisis intensified, many airlines were forced to cancel passenger flights due to low demand and border closures. This situation complicated logistics for the transportation of numerous essential goods and supplies as passenger airlines carry about half of the world’s cargo, according to IATA. “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,” says Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA.

Airlines are adapting to this new reality and paying more attention to cargo. Viva Aerobus turned 10 of its Airbus A320 into fully cargo flights by using both the cabin and cargo holds for the transportation of goods, which will allow the aircraft to carry up to 19 tons of cargo. These aircraft are being used in routes to and from Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Queretaro, San Jose del Cabo, Merida, Cancun and Tijuana. Aeroméxico joined forces with the federal government to transport medical supplies and provided free transportation of protective equipment for the Mexican Red Cross. In April, Aeroméxico also adapted some Boeing 787 Dreamliners into cargo flights between Mexico City and Shanghai and Tokyo. While some of these flights were organized with the Mexican government, other were charter flights booked by private companies.

Many other airlines have joined the fight, with American Airlines, Lufthansa, Delta Airlines, Qatar Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Air New Zealand, Air Canada and Air India as some examples of companies that have made this switch. However, these changes are not sufficient to overcome the slump airlines are facing. The slowdown the global economy is facing led to a 39 percent fall in cargo volume transported in April as many non-essential manufacturing operations were reduced or halted to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

While passenger airlines are facing a challenging future, cargo and charter airlines are seeing a sharp increase in demand as companies scramble to move essential and time sensitive goods to support the fight against COVID-19. Demand has also led to a sharp increase in prices, with prices rising from US$1.5 to US$2 per kilo to US$4 to US$5 per kilo.

To address the sharp challenges the industry faces, airline organizations are urging governments to implement support measures for the industry. “Urgent tax relief and direct financial assistance that is to the benefit of the entire aviation ecosystem is needed to help preserve millions of jobs, protect essential operations and foster a balanced recovery,” says de Juniac.

Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer