Air cargo continues to ramp up emergency response operations

By Damian Brett

Airlines and freight forwarders have been continuing to ramp up their cargo operations in response to urgent demand for critical medical equipment.

IAG Cargo said it has been leading efforts across the group’s airlines, which include Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia, to transport critical goods like personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitiser and ventilators as health authorities seek fast, reliable delivery. 

Since March, IAG Cargo and its sister airlines are operating charter and cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft with shipments including hand sanitiser supplies from China, India and the Middle East to London Heathrow destined for the NHS.

The largest shipment booked to date has been a single charter on a British Airways aircraft carrying 55 tonnes. More than 100 tonnes of sanitiser have been shipped since March.

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus and IAG Cargo are operating up to five flights per day from Beijing to Dublin to transport PPE. This is set to run for two months in a critical supply operation for the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE).

Iberia carried 90 tonnes of medical supplies and protective materials from Shanghai to Madrid, on three return flights from March 31 to April 1.

The first round-trip on the Shanghai — Madrid ‘medical air-corridor’ included 3m face masks. In total, IAG Cargo has now transported over 10m  masks on the Iberia network alone, while since April 2, 60 tonnes of PPE have been carried in several flights between Mexico City and Madrid.

Meanwhile, Emirates SkyCargo said that it had scaled up its cargo services to connect an increasing number of global destinations.

The air cargo carrier currently operates flights to 51 destinations globally, out of which 19 cities are served by the Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777 freighter aircraft offering up to 100 tonnes of capacity per flight and 38 destinations are served by dedicated cargo flights on Emirates’ Boeing 777 passenger aircraft offering up to 50 tonnes belly capacity. 

Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president, said: “We have particularly ramped up operations for transporting cargo in the bellyhold of our passenger aircraft in the last two weeks.

“Emirates SkyCargo has been expanding its network on a daily basis and some of the latest destinations for our cargo flights on passenger aircraft include Bangkok, Casablanca, Johannesburg, Singapore and Taipei.”

During the week ending 4 April 2020, Emirates SkyCargo had operated more than 160 flights on its freighter aircraft and close to 90 flights on its passenger aircraft. The following week, the air cargo carrier had operated close to 160 flights on its passenger aircraft alone.

Etihad Cargo, meanwhile, has announced five additional routes using passenger aircraft to increase the flow of essential supplies into the UAE and provide further east-west connectivity between major markets.

Using bellyhold capacity on a mix of Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft, Etihad Cargo is introducing services between Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, Chennai, Kerala, Karachi, and Amsterdam, in addition to passenger freighters already operating scheduled cargo-only flights to Seoul, Beijing, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Jakarta, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Riyadh.

“The new routes will further ensure continuity of fresh imports to the UAE including meat, fish and seafood, fruits, and vegetables, in addition to pharmaceuticals and medical supplies,” the airline said.

Etihad Cargo has also operated a series of special charters to carry urgent consignments of medical supplies from mainland China and Hong Kong to destinations in Europe and the Americas.

With these additional flights Etihad Cargo will now operate over 90 turnaround flights a week to 29 destinations in 5 continents using the combined fleet of dedicated Boeing 777 freighters and Boeing 787 passenger aircraft.

Forwarders have also been ramping up operations. DHL has activated its Disaster Response Team (DRT) to provide assistance to the Costa Rica National Emergency Commission (CNE).

DHL’s volunteer employees will consult with CNE and assist with setting up a central supply warehouse to manage incoming Covid-19 related supplies.

DHL Global Forwarding volunteers will consult on occupational health and safety issues, review necessary equipment and resources, consult on security matters, and manage donation inventories and purchases of cleaning supplies, hygiene, personal protective equipment and consumer goods.

In Germany, a Lufthansa Cargo aircraft carrying 8m protective masks on board landed in Munich, late Tuesday afternoon. The Boeing 777F, named Olá Brazil, departed Shanghai early on April 7 and after a brief stopover in the South Korean capital Seoul, the aircraft continued its flight to Munich.

The 8m masks were packed in 4,000 cartons, weighing 26 tons. The shipment was transported by Lufthansa Cargo on behalf of the Bavarian State Government in cooperation with the logistics company Fiege.

On the express front, FedEx delivered its first shipments as a part of Project Airbridge, a US public-private partnership.

FedEx has contracted with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide expedited shipping of PPE and other supplies critical to Covid-19 relief efforts.

FedEx Express aircraft are being used to transport PPE supplies from manufacturers around the world to the US. The operation aims to accelerate delivery of PPE and other medical supplies, moving them via air instead of ocean.

Once the shipments have arrived in the United States, they will become part of the US Strategic National Stockpile and will eventually be distributed  to healthcare facilities and workers throughout the country.

Finally, the LATAM Cargo Group announced new adjustments to its itinerary to benefit its customers and mitigate the impact that the Covid-19 has had on the passenger operation.

The company announced the incorporation of two destinations to its network of cargo flights to meet the needs of its customers, with Los Angeles and Mexico City added to the LATAM Cargo network.

They will form part of the Santiago (Chile) – Lima (Peru) – Los Angeles (US) – Mexico City (Mexico) – Lima – Santiago route. With two weekly frequencies, it will support the transport of perishables to the US and will promote the supply of electronic products, among other products, from US and Mexico to South America.

“The current environment is stressing supply chains across the globe. We want to prove to our clients that we remain committed to their success. This new freighter operation replaces the passenger capacity that was critical to key clients. As strategic partners, we moved swiftly to offer them a new alternative and we intend to continue doing so in the markets that require it”, commented Andrés Bianchi, chief executive of the LATAM Cargo Group.

Specifically, LATAM Cargo will offer mango exporters in Peru and salmon exporters in Chile a greater transportation capacity to the west coast of the US, an area known for being one of the main centers of salmon consumption in the country.

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