Air cargo carriers add charter flights to maintain freight capacity despite COVID-19 travel restrictions
Air cargo carriers are adding charter flights to their networks in an effort to supplement their usual freight capacity despite a collapse of passenger demand due to widespread closures associated with the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. Third-party logistics (3PL) giant Ceva Logistics AG has contracted a range of 86 freighter aircraft to deliver parts and supplies to its customers, saying the move could keep supply chains running and prevent production lines from closing down. Likewise, Delta Cargo on Monday launched a global charter flight operation spanning 13 U.S. airports and 70 international cities, in response to corporate customer demand for help "transporting cargo during these times of uncertainty and change," the airline said.
And the German global logistics firm Dachser said today it had added a direct Chicago-Frankfurt-Chicago route to its charter flight rotation, in response to coronavirus supply chain disruption that has prompted European customers to request a direct charter flight to the United States for their time-sensitive cargo "during these volatile and unpredictable times." Those moves come as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Friday that it welcomed efforts by the European Commission (EC) to suspend the "use it or lose it" rule for airport slots through June. Under normal business conditions, that policy requires airlines to operate a majority of their scheduled flights in order to avoid forfeiting their airport landing slots, but that system has been stressed by an "unprecedented" fall in passenger traffic due to coronavirus-related quarantines, shutdowns, and travel bans, IATA said.
One of those bans was the Trump Administration's decision on Wednesday to restrict the flow of passenger traffic between the U.S. and Europe for 30 days, in an effort to block the flow of any new cases of coronavirus infection entering the country. The expansion of charter flights could affect a significant amount of freight, with CEVA saying it has been able to move more than 4,700 tons of additional airfreight to date, through more than 58 cargo flights already completed. Those charter flights have focused on customers in the automotive, aerospace, computer, and hi-tech electronics sectors, CEVA said.
Overall, the air freight sector has supported efforts to restrict the COVID-19 pandemic through shipments conducted through dedicated cargo freighter operations, utilization of cargo capacity in passenger aircraft, and with relief flights to affected areas, IATA said. Those shipments have helped to resupply medicines and medical equipment (including spare parts and repair components) and to keep global supply chains functioning for the most time-sensitive materials, the group said. However, IATA is now calling on governments to take additional measures to ensure air cargo remains available, citing severe limits on cargo capacity triggered by dramatic travel restrictions and the collapse of passenger demand.
"Over 185,000 passenger flights have been cancelled since the end of January in response to government travel restrictions. With this, vital cargo capacity has disappeared when it is most urgently needed in the fight against COVID-19," Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and CEO, said in a release. "The world's fleet of freighter aircraft has been mobilized to make up this capacity shortfall. Governments must take urgent measures to ensure that vital supply lines remain open, efficient and effective."
Editor's note: This article was revised on March 16 to add content from Dachser.March 16, 2020