Travel restrictions and business closures tied to the Covid-19 outbreak have caused airlines worldwide to cancel a significant percentage of their passenger schedules, a move that has heavily impacted the logistics supply chain that relies on “belly capacity” in those jets to fly freight on these scheduled services.
In response, some airlines are now identifying flexible opportunities to use their aircraft as efficiently as possible, such as making passenger aircraft available for charters, or introducing new scheduled cargo flights, according to the Coral Gables, Florida-based online payment company PayCargo.
For example, Ceva Logistics, Delta Cargo, and Dachser have added dozens of charter flights to their regular schedules. And American Airlines has announced cargo-only flights, repurposing its passenger aircraft that have been grounded by the Trump Administration’s ban on most travel between the U.S. ad Europe, and using those plans to move freight between the U.S. and Europe.
American’s first cargo-only flight traveled from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) on March 20, marking the first scheduled cargo-only fight since 1984 when American retired the last of its Boeing 747 freighters. Each of the modern Boeing 777-300 planes can carry more than 100,000 pounds, and the loads are scheduled to contain materials related to the Covid-19 crisis, such as: medical supplies, mail for active U.S. military, telecommunications equipment and electronics that will support people working from home, and e-commerce packages.
“We have a critical role to play in keeping essential goods moving during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to do our part and find ways to continue to serve our customers and our communities,” Rick Elieson, American Airlines’ president of cargo and vice president of international operations, said in a release. “Challenging times call for creative solutions, and a team of people across the airline has been working nonstop to arrange cargo-only flight options for our customers.”
The move comes as airlines’ revenues are plummeting due to flight bans as well as international and regional travel restrictions, according to Geneva, Switzerland-based air industry trade group The International Air Transport Association (IATA).
That rapid change has outstripped the ability of airlines to balance their books through extensive cost cutting measures, prompting IATA to launch a worldwide campaign petitioning governments to provide emergency support to airlines. “Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is the top priority of governments. But they must be aware that the public health emergency has now become a catastrophe for economies and for aviation,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said in a release. “The scale of the current industry crisis is much worse and far more widespread than 9/11, SARS or the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Airlines are fighting for survival.”
Under these strained conditions, shippers are often left searching for new capacity to move their cargo. In response, PayCargo today said it has launched a free communication mechanism via its online payment platform that allows freight vendors such as airlines, ship terminals, and maritime operators to share key information with the 20,000-plus shippers in the company’s system.
The service will allow carriers to communicate the availability of new capacity options to shippers, which is intended to bridge a communication gap and facilitate the movement of goods throughout the broader cargo and shipping community, Paycargo President and CEO of the Americas, Lionel van der Walt, said in a release.
“While this may not be our core business, we feel that we need to do our bit to help the cargo community in this crisis and it is all about helping the wider freight community which is facing so many challenges globally,” van der Walt said. “Collaboration between stakeholders is vital in this time of crisis and the supply chain needs to work together as much as possible for the greater good to help keep the freight moving as seamlessly as possible through the supply chain.”
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Our first cargo-only flight, since 1984, departed from @DFWAirport to Frankfurt, Germany, filled with medical supplies, mail for active U.S. military, telecommunications equipment and e-commerce packages. pic.twitter.com/ZgNFSTFf2e— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) March 20, 2020