Thursday, March 26, 2020

Airfreight Carriers Come Into Their Own as Battle to Fight Virus Continues

Passenger Planes Become Cargo Charters to Ferry Vital Supplies
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – US – We have mentioned briefly some of the work being undertaken by the global airlines to assist in the fight against the global pandemic by converting now defunct passenger aircraft to cargo flights in a bid to ferry vital supplies as and when they are needed.

Sadly it is this sort of international emergency that is the only way we are made aware of how efficiently the world’s airborne supply chain operates. Normally it is in the wake of a hurricane, earthquake or similar natural disaster, and the Covid-19 is certainly the most serious natural catastrophe any of us have ever witnessed.

Two of the major players in the field with flights across the Atlantic and beyond are American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, both of whom have their own cargo divisions which have now stepped up their efforts to assist. American Airlines is continuing to operate international widebody service to key locations around the globe and this week will visit locations including Auckland Airport (AKL), São Paulo International Airport (GRU) and Honolulu International Airport (HNL).

These flights are in addition to existing passenger flights which continue to operate daily between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and London Heathrow (LHR), Miami International Airport (MIA) and LHR, and three times weekly between DFW and Narita International Airport (NRT). American is also expanding its cargo capacity with more roundtrip flights between DFW and Frankfurt Airport (FRA) beginning today, bringing a total of more than 40 widebody flights operating this week around the globe.

On March 20, 2020 American deployed its first cargo-only flights since 1984 between DFW and FRA. Two Boeing 777-300 aircraft flew two round trips between the airports over the course of four days, transporting critical goods including medical supplies, mail for active US military, telecommunications equipment and electronics that will support people working from home, and e-commerce packages. Roger Samways, Vice President Cargo Sales, observed:

“The air cargo industry plays a vital role in supporting the world’s economy and it’s more important than ever before that we continue to find solutions to serve our customers.”

A similar message from Virgin Atlantic which has operated its first ever cargo only charter amidst the operational challenges brought by the Covid-19 upon the aviation industry. The VS698 from London Heathrow for New York JFK on March 22 created history for the airline as it departed with two pilots, one cabin crew member and a hold filled with 12,490 kilogrammes of pharmaceutical and medical supplies.

Although the emergence of Covid-19 has led to a decrease in passengers travelling, demand to transport cargo remains strong. Special exemptions from the imposed travel restrictions for pilots and cabin crew, whose health and wellbeing remains top priority, mean that cargo operations can continue, ensuring the airline can continue to support vital supply chains across the globe. With many airlines cancelling flights, there has been a dramatic decrease in cargo space available but global trade continues, and the Virgin Atlantic cargo team continues to operate helping both regular and new customers keep their freight moving around the world.

A flight with no passengers is technically not an unusual sight, with training, positioning and maintenance sectors happening regularly amongst Virgin Atlantic’s fleet. However, a pure cargo charter flight like VS698 had never been operated before by the British network carrier. With further 'cargo only' operated services scheduled in for this week, Virgin Atlantic is expected to continue its cargo offering to destinations from the US to the Far East.

Every year, Virgin Atlantic transports over 200,000 tonnes of cargo on its global network. From salmon sourced from lochs in Scotland, and pharmaceutical supplies, to supercars travelling to the US, customers who have flown with the airline before will no doubt have been sitting above all sorts of goods and products being shipped around the world. Dominic Kennedy, Managing Director of Virgin Atlantic Cargo said:

“Watching Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural cargo-only charter take off at London Heathrow added to a feeling of immense pride towards the herculean effort of our Cargo team. Making the flight happen, in such short notice and in such challenging times, reaffirms the fact that we have one of the best teams in the sky supporting supply chains across the globe.”

Photo: Loading that first ever Virgin charter.