By unconventionally and intelligently working together, airlines, airports, and ground handlers, often supported by regulators, helped to ensure that supply chains did not collapse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, vaccine doses, medical items, and PPE could be flown to many regions, despite tight transportation capacity due to the lack of lower deck options caused by the sudden and extended grounding of passenger traffic. During the TIACA-initiated ‘TakeOff Cargo’ event with Routes on Tuesday, 20JUL21, TIACA General Secretary, Glyn Hughes high-lighted and acknowledged the outstanding role played by the air cargo industry during the pandemic in keeping flows running.
Crisis was yesterday
The air freight industry is not ‘taking off’ – it is in full swing since about half a year, ensuring the global supply of vital goods such as vaccines, medicines, pharmaceuticals, and other much-needed commodities, Glyn Hughes noted in his introductory remarks in reference to the title of the event. Regarding the current state of the industry, “we are already there where we had been before the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, despite the ongoing lack of belly capacity,” the TIACA official emphasized. He then presented a graph illustrating that the upward CTK trend (Cargo Ton Kilometers), had already reached pre-Covid levels in JAN21, and keeps on steadily rising since. A remarkable and unprecedented U-turn in the recent history of the industry!
COVID-19 fostered agility
He applauded the paramount role that carriers, forwarders, and ground handlers played in keeping supply chains running during the pandemic, and the astonishing solutions the actors came up with to tackle the many unprecedented COVID-19 challenges, leading to innovative transport solutions practically overnight. For instance: reactivating and utilizing grounded passenger aircraft, stripping them of their seats, and turning them into “preighters” in order to accommodate parcels and packages filled with urgently needed face masks and other PPE items, in their passenger cabins. This was a very welcomed contribution, greatly reducing the danger of COVID-19 infection.
Other outstanding achievements the industry can be proud of, were creative ground handling, distribution, and storage solutions developed practically from scratch to maintain the product integrity of COVID-19 vaccines. A demanding task because some of them, such as BioNTech/Pfizer, require temperatures of -80°C all the way from production to delivery, Mr. Hughes pointed out.
Much praise – for good reason
The above-mentioned examples, which are only a few out of many presented by the TIACA official, illustrate the high importance air freight has in supplying to people – not only during a pandemic! The industry also deserves praise for transporting and continuing to transport incredible masses of much sought-after e-commerce products after demand went through the roof during the lockdowns, Glyn noted. He assumes that this consumer behavior will probably remain in place for years, because purchasing habits have increasingly changed from brick-and-mortar retailing to mail-order business.
Collaboration has become a do-or-die issue
For the near future, the TIACA official painted a very positive picture as far as the demand for freight traffic is concerned. All economic data shows upward trends. The passenger business is picking up again, and digitalization made a big leap forward in the pandemic. However, the persistent mismatch between transport demand and capacity supply remains a problem for the industry. Globally, there is currently almost 12% less cargo capacity available compared to pre-COVID times, while demand has risen by 8.4% at the same time. Although Glyn didn’t touch this point verbally, it explains why the air freight industry has been able to generate such high profits in the recent past.
Further, the TIACA official predicted that global connectivity will not return quickly. His advice to the various actors within the cargo industry is: “Intensify your cooperation, urgently.”
The times of lone wolves are over!
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