Coronavirus and aviation: Why is air cargo grounded when the world needs it most?
By Isobel Fenton, Platform Curator, Aviation & Aerospace, World Economic Forum
- In contrast to the dramatic drop in passenger demand, air cargo operations are surging to respond to calls to move essential supplies to tackle the COVID pandemic. Time is of the essence, but freight movements are constrained by red tape.
- Around 40% of annual global air cargo is typically transported in the bellyhold of passenger aircraft – contributing to the capacity pinch, with the vast majority currently grounded.
- Industry and governments need to create a more flexible aviation environment for freight, which can serve as a model for passenger aviation once that resumes. The recovery of the industry depends on it.
Back in “normal” times, a vast network of passenger flights did the heavy lifting for the transport of the air cargo. However, the around 40% of air cargo which was transported in the bellyhold, has been significantly pinched with less than 20% of global widebody capacity now flying.
Looking ahead to the post-crisis world when passenger travel can resume at scale, it will face similar challenges: non-harmonized policies, differing national regulations and uncoordinated border restrictions. If this is a glimpse into the resumption of passenger air services, it is very concerning.
There is an opportunity for the use of cargo operations as a model for the resumption of passenger travel. The aviation industry’s rebound and the world’s benefit from air operations depend on the cooperation of governments and industry to replace the red tape with elastic which allows flexibility for the aviation sector.
The growing appetite for use of idle aircraft has met with various bottlenecks, like the lack of a global marketplace to connect the supply and demand, ad-hoc and decentralized efforts by government-driven missions operated by their national carriers, prioritising essential goods and competitive dynamics of pricing.
Also, blanket restrictions like 14-day quarantine for the entire crew and unharmonized testing, fast-changing border restrictions, operational curfews at airports threatens the timely delivery of essential supplies. Applying these obstacles to a global scenario shows a shortfall of timeliness and also scale.