Airlines and Airports are forced to perform air cargo operations thanks for COVID-19

[Ref Flight International Magazine 31 Mar – 6 Apr 2020]

Since the outbreak of novel coronavirus at the beginning of 2020, civil aviation industry has entered a hard time. The passenger might have to be stranded on ground, but shipment are waiting for boarding.

Recently, London Heathrow airport is boosting its cargo capabilities ahead of an expected 53% surge in air-freight activity, as more medicine and food shipments enter and leave the UK during the coronavirus pandemic.

– relaxing its slot rules for airlines
– offering free aircraft parking for grounded fleets
– bringing forward growth-incentive payments (to increase cash flow for airlines)

As passenger flights are increasingly grounded amid border closures and plummeting customer demand, some airlines have already announced plans to switch to all-cargo operations while their passenger flights are grounded or dramatically reduced.

Cathay Pacific and Korean Air puts parked jets to freight use

Lufthansa Group, this week, also announced that it was preparing Airbus A330 and Boeing 747-8 passenger jets for pure cargo flights.

Similarly, American Airlines, which has cut more than 75% of its international capacity, has begun cargo-only flights for the first time since 1984.

IAG, the British Airways and Iberia owner, of which Cargo chief commercial officer John Cheetham says: “To support your freight and to help get it where it needs to be, we are now opening up the opportunity for freight forwarders to charter our aircraft where needed… We may operate some of our passenger aircraft just for belly-hold cargo to ensure we keep critical supplies moving.”

In other words, IAG is offering its passenger aircraft to freight forwarders for cargo operations in response to the coronavirus ­pandemic.

Compare to Cathay Pacific 96% over the ­period of April and May, IAG carriers expect a group-wide 75% cut in capacity, in response to plunging passenger demand and ­travel restrictions.

Despite of the significant reducing demand in passenger service, cargo operations seems to be the cash cow for air operators.

Air freight rates have continued their rapid ascent, breaching the $5/kg (£4.20/kg)mark on the transpacific trade lane for the first time in years as the market responds to drastic reductions in belly-hold capacity.

From Hong Kong to Europe, prices were up by 21.3%, to $3.47/kg. Again, this is not a new high, but still 32% ahead of the year-ago level.

Meanwhile, rates from Hong Kong to North America increased by 19.4%, to $4.55/kg. While this is not a record, it is 29.6% up on the same period a year earlier.

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