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News Article

Flight Cancellations Complicate Cargo Transportation

By Alicia Arizpe | Fri, 03/27/2020 - 12:18

Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have caused numerous national and international flight cancellations. While the effectiveness of these measures is still to be determined, it has had an unintended side effect: it slowed down air cargo and in turn might have held critical life-saving supplies away from those who need them, according to IATA.

While some flights are exclusive for the transportation of goods, a significant percentage of cargo travels in passenger flights. About half of the world’s cargo gets to its destination using passenger flights, according to IATA, and just in Mexico, between 40-45 percent of all cargo is transported in passenger flights, according to INDEX. For that reason, the numerous flight cancellations are causing trouble for cargo operations. By mid-March, over 185,000 flights had been cancelled globally due to the epidemic, according to IATA, and the number will only keep raising as countries close borders and more people decide to stay home.

These measures are forcing airlines to scramble to fit all demands for cargo transportation in a smaller number of cargo-exclusive airplanes. While some airlines, including Aeroméxico, are switching unused passenger aircraft into cargo airplanes, this is a slow process that for some aircraft might involve months-long readjustments. For that reason, IATA calls for governments to speed up and facilitate air cargo operations.

At first glance, the speedy arrival of goods might seem a secondary necessity but this is not the case in the fight against COVID-19. “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. The association is asking governments to introduce fast-track procedures for cargo operations, to exempt from quarantine flight crews who do not interact with the public and to remove operating hour curfews and other economic impediments for air cargo operators, such as slot restrictions.

Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer