In a set of guidelines, EU Member States are requested by the European Commission to facilitate air cargo services during the Covid-19 outbreak. The measures are temporary. Companies are invited to cooperate, but cartel building will not be allowed, the EC says.
The EC endorses the fact that continued and uninterrupted air cargo services are vital for the economy as well as for fighting Covid-19 and should therefore be able to continuously deliver
Most passenger aircraft, carrying about half of all global air freight, have ceased operations, and all-cargo flights alone are unable to compensate for this loss of cargo space. Shippers, including the medical sector, are reporting a lack of capacity and a surge in air cargo shipping rates, the EC states.
The EC stresses that the operational measures set out in the guidelines will be temporary for the duration of the crisis. Without explicitly saying so, the EC will, for the time being, bend its legislation on fair competition, stating that the present situation may give rise to the need for cooperation between companies. “In the current circumstances, the Commission will not actively intervene against necessary and temporary measures put in place in order to avoid a shortage of supply.”
However, the communication also makes clear that the European Competition Network (the exchange platform between the national competition authorities of the Member States, ms) “will not hesitate to take action against air cargo operators taking advantage of the current situation by cartelizing or abusing their dominant position, including with regard to pricing.”
EU air services regulation must be respected
Apparently, a significant number of Member States have not clearly exempted cargo flights from their national restrictions on aviation. The EC reminds the Member States of the conditions laid down in the EU Regulation on common rules for the operation of air services in the Community.
“Flight restrictions within the EU which prohibit air cargo flights in the absolute or which render the operation of such must be lifted,” the EC says, adding that third countries too should refrain from unnecessary restrictions on such air cargo operations.
For transport from outside the EU, the EC insists on granting all necessary authorizations and permits without delay, including, where legally possible, temporary traffic rights for additional air cargo operations, even when conducted with passenger aircraft. The guidelines also call for flexibility on the restriction of night curfews and the facilitation of the use of passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations.
The EC wants to ensure that air cargo crew as well as handling and maintenance personnel are qualified as critical staff in cases of lockdown or curfew and that, where possible, sufficient cargo capacity is maintained when regional airports are closed for economic reasons.
The Member States are invited to consider keeping airports open for air cargo only, and in any case to ensure that open airports maintain enough air cargo handling capabilities to ensure timely treatment and delivery.
Asymptomatic transport personnel, including aircrew, engaged in the transport of goods should be exempted from travel restrictions and containment measures. Fast-track ad-hoc exemptions to address unforeseen situations such as sudden and unforeseen emergency operations must be allowed.
Ramp personnel must be allowed to do their work both safely as well as efficiently, by providing staff with guidance on health precautions in an air cargo environment and supporting them with appropriate supplies of hygiene products.
Member States should also encourage cargo and express airlines to exceptionally reserve capacity for the supply of essential goods, medical and emergency supplies, and apply reasonable shipping rates for such supplies.
The European freight forwarding umbrella, Clecat, has applauded the communication, stating that it will ensure the functioning of vital global supply chains.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels
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