Virgin Atlantic is set to deliver over 43 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) in to the UK onboard special cargo-only flights which have been chartered by the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS throughout May, June and July.
The airline was the first British airline to resume flights to China on Friday 3rd April following special dispensation from the CAA and assistance from the British Embassy in China. Since then Virgin Atlantic has operated nine 26-hour round trips between London Heathrow and Shanghai. The flights use both the cargo hold as well as passenger seats and overhead lockers to carry on average 1,400 boxes of essential equipment.
The flights are manned by seven pilots and four cabin crew who rotate duties and rest time. Each flight contains on average 16 tonnes of essential items needed to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.
Since the first charter on Friday 3rd April, which was supported by Virgin Unite and Virgin Group, over 150 tonnes of medical supplies and PPE have been transported, including 66 ventilators, over two million face masks, 600,000 face shields and visors, one million disposable gloves, 38,000 items for eye protection, 125,000 protective coveralls and isolation gowns and over 25,000 battery operated or manual ventilators.
Dominic Kennedy, Managing Director, Virgin Atlantic Cargo, said: “We are so incredibly grateful for all the work our healthcare professionals are doing during this challenging time and we’re pleased we can play our part by bringing crucial medical supplies and PPE in to the UK for the NHS teams working on the front line.
“Despite a decrease in passengers travelling, demand to transport cargo remains strong, and our teams are working hard keeping global supply chains running and transporting essential supplies around the world. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with the Department for Health and the NHS, working with them on daily flights from Shanghai to London throughout May, June and July transporting over 1,500 tonnes of supplies that the teams here in the UK urgently need to care for patients.”
Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye said: “We’re proud to be working closely with Virgin Atlantic to keep the UK’s vital supply lines open during this challenging time. This outbreak has drastically changed our sector and we’re all playing our part by prioritising freight operations which have seen an exponential increase, with cargo only movements up by over 950% in the past week. This focus means that critical medical supplies are getting into this country, ready for use by our frontline NHS workers.
“After overcoming COVID-19, aviation will be key to kickstarting the UK’s economic recovery. This is why we’re calling for standardised health screening procedures that will help to ensure the safety and peace of mind of our passengers and colleagues as the country looks towards a new normal.”
The emergence of Covid-19 has led to Virgin Atlantic operating cargo-only flights, a first for the airline since its launch in 1984. Special exemptions from the imposed travel restrictions for pilots and cabin crew – whose health and wellbeing remains our top priority – mean that cargo operations can continue, ensuring the airline can continue to support vital supply chains across the globe.
Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever cargo-only flight, VS698 from London Heathrow for New York JFK, took place on 22nd March 2020.