Keep air freight, fight Covid-19 valiantly

The world is now engaged in an unprecedented fight against a common enemy – the coronavirus. Governments around the world have clamped effective measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. Border closure, travel restrictions, social distancing and self-isolation are now being implemented globally in containing the highly contagious viral attack.

Undoubtedly, air cargo operations are an essential part of the fight against Covid-19. Since the crisis began, air cargo has been a vital partner in delivering much-needed medicines, medical equipment (including spare parts/repair components), and in keeping global supply chains functioning for the most time-sensitive materials. This has been done through dedicated cargo freighter operations, utilisation 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. However, the dramatic restrictions on non-essential travel and collapse of passenger demand have severely limited cargo capacity across the globe. The measures that governments have introduced to restrict travel are shrinking the size of passenger operations.

That is also removing significant cargo capacity from the system — capacity that is vitally needed to help keep supply chains going, including the delivery of critical medicines and medical equipment. The global airline industry has already been heavily impacted, a recent analysis has shown. According to OAG, a global travel data provider, the number of scheduled flights is globally down by 10% compared to the second week of March in 2019.

More than 185,000 passenger flights have been cancelled since the end of January in response to government travel restrictions, points out IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “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 mobilised to make up this capacity shortfall.

Governments must take urgent measures to ensure that vital supply lines remain open, efficient and effective,” de Juniac said. Governments, he urged should do all that they can to ensure efficient cargo operations. That includes exempting crew — who do not interact with the public–from quarantine, granting temporary traffic rights where needed, keep air cargo excluded from travel restrictions…and other practical measures to keep cargo moving at this critical time.

Governments must see air cargo as an essential part of the fight against Covid-19, IATA urged and called upon decision makers and regulators to take the following actions. Exclude air cargo operations from any Covid-19-related travel restrictions, to ensure life-saving medical products can be transported without disruptions. Ensure that standardised measures are in place so that air cargo can continue to move around the world with minimal disruptions.

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.

Recently, Airports Council International (ACI) World released its advisory bulletin listing out Covid-19’s economic impact on the airport sector. It said in the first quarter of this year, airport revenues from around the world were estimated to generate approximately £39.5bn. Following the outbreak, the global revenue is expected to have a loss of around £4.3bn.

ACI World director general Angela Gittens said, “The sudden shock represented by the Covid-19 outbreak is affecting passenger and cargo traffic worldwide, markedly in Asia-Pacific and significantly reducing airport revenues. “Airports rely heavily on airport charges to fund their operating and capital costs and operators find themselves under intense pressure during periods of traffic decline. Airport revenues must be sufficiently protected to ensure safe and sustainable operations.

Measures to limit the collection of airport charges would be ill-advised,” she said. “Air cargo carriers are working closely with governments and health organisations around the world to safeguard public health while also keeping the global economy moving. 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,” de Juniac added. Aviation certainly is a resilient industry. With decisive action by governments the industry – including passenger and freight segments, can probably get through the crisis in a few months, and more importantly, keep the world connected and economies intact.

*Pratap John is Business Editor at Gulf Times.

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