air freight

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Air Freight Industry

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, air freight has been one of the hardest hit industries in logistics.

Lockdown restrictions and travel bans have caused chaos internationally with many flights being grounded. On a normal day, air freight is responsible for the transit of trillions of dollars’ worth of shipments every year. Flying is one of the fastest methods of transport and is considered ideal for low volume, high-value items. With the industry currently at its knees, it has heavily disrupted global supply chains and production cycles for multiple countries. Other sectors of aviation including commercial and private air travel have also taken major setbacks with many airlines having to resort to mass redundancies of their employees.

 

The Pre-Pandemic Air Freight Industry

Before COVID-19, much of the worlds air cargo was carried via passenger aircraft. This was transported in the aircraft hold and made up 40% of annual global cargo. New generation, wide bodied aircraft are equipped with a generous belly hold capacity and are ideal to carry large quantities of cargo. A Boeing 777 passenger aircraft is able to carry as much as 20 tonnes and was frequently used to transport many shipments. Unfortunately, with only 20% of the world’s air traffic in operation at the moment, this has been significantly impacted.

Although freighter aircraft continue to operate by cargo operators and freight forwarders, many of these aircraft are hub focused and are not able to access the same extensive route network as commercial aircraft which is proving restrictive and taking away much of the convenience air freight has always promised.

 

Making Up the Shortfall

To ensure essential cargo continues to be transported, airlines have been utilising their main passenger cabins. The load sheet must be worked out precisely to ensure the weight and balance of the aircraft is not affected and is secured into passenger chairs with netting. It was widely publicised that emergency PPE for frontline healthcare workers was transported from China in this way.

At least 20 airlines have offered their aircraft for global cargo missions including British Airways, Delta and Cathay Pacific. The aircraft are chartered by freight forwarders and operated by the airline’s crew.

 

Low Fuel Prices Making up for Low Occupancy

Low fuel prices have eased the expense of low occupancy flights. This has been a saving grace to many airlines which has enabled them to continue flying to destinations they would otherwise have had to cancel. Aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus have also offered their freighter aircraft to transport critical supplies including 1.5 million facemasks.

Despite these creative solutions and work arounds, the industry is experiencing a major shortfall in the capacity it is able to transport and is majorly disrupting the transportation of essential goods such as medical supplies to virus epicentres.

Coordinating cargo supplies to demand is a time-consuming business that requires intense labour and negotiation from a lot of people. During the pandemic, this has been covered by governmental departments and national carriers and have usually been organised on an ad-hoc basis

 

Operational Obstacles

Before a shipment reaches its final destination, operators have to address certain challenges including airport curfews, border restrictions and flight time limitations. If the aircraft is permitted to land in a certain country, the crew can be subject to gruelling quarantine and testing regulations. This could see them spending up to two weeks in a hotel room upon arrival causing severe disruption to the operator. Without their crew they are without an aircraft prohibiting them from making other vital cargo journeys.

These issues are likely to cause pandemonium for the future of passenger air travel when lockdown restrictions lift. It is likely that these issues will still be in affect and will continue to prohibit many people getting to where they need to go.

 

Preventative Measures for the Industry

Aviation is an industry that relies on governments to work collectively and cohesively. When it comes to air freight, there needs to be more of a concerted effort made to remain consistent from one country to the other. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that new procedures are required to prepare ourselves for future crises. A framework must be developed for all countries to work from and ensure that the transportation of vital supplies is not severely disrupted regardless of the critical threat level of the world.

The development of this framework will involve analysis, risk assessments, training sessions and the re-writing of standard operating procedure.  For aviation in particular, more consideration needs to be given to air cargo and how we can keep operations going in the face of a crisis.  The air cargo industry has proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, more support needs to be given to be able to provide that invaluable service in the future.

Brexit-uk-ireland

Trade with the UK and Ireland takes a tumble as Brexit Bites Back

In a statement from the Irish government, it was reported that goods shipments in Ireland have halved in number with the UK and doubled with France in the first month of Brexit.

This shift in numbers highlights just one of the new issues that have arose from the new trade deal particularly with Britain’s so-called ‘land bridge.’ Hauliers now carrying EU shipments on British motorways are now facing lengthy delays due to the new bureaucracy imposed at the borders which is making the option of transporting via sea freight much more desirable despite the lengthy wait for the shipment to arrive.

 

Bureaucracy at the Border

According to the Irish Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, just 17,500 trucks (an average of 45 per ferry) arrived into Irish ports in January from Britain which is half of the figure that arrived in the previous year and just a fraction of the capacity of the Irish sea ferries which have the ability to carry at least 200 heavy goods vehicles.

Despite the exceptionally low flow of goods from Britain, hauliers were required to provide 760,000 import declarations, which averaged at around 43 per truck, to successfully gain entry into Ireland. The Prime Minister confirmed that these low volumes were as a result of, “Brexit stockpiling, COVID-19 restrictions, newly introduced checks and controls and the emergence of new direct services with additional capacity on European routes.”

Sea routes that bypass Britain have doubled in the last few weeks, particular the Ireland to France route which has seen triple the number of options available to hauliers. Drivers have been purchasing standby tickets in the hope they may find a last-minute space on these commonly full sailings.

 

COVID Testing Chaos

France is now requiring that drivers arriving on Irish ferries as well as from England should have a negative COVID test taken within the last 72 hours. In response to this, Ireland last week set up test centres enabling drivers to receive free antigen testing before boarding ferries. The two test centres were set up in Dublin and Rosslare and are already able to test up to 1500 drivers weekly.

 

Customs Clearance Catastrophe

As many as one in five lorries arriving into Ireland from Britain do not possess the required paperwork for customs, animal health, food safety or security. This is causing hours and even days of delays to vehicles before they are permitted to proceed into the country.

“The challenge the new checks due to Brexit create for traders is fully acknowledged,” the office said.

The same issue is arising for Irish drivers trying to access Europe via Britain. A protest was held at Dublin Port last week appealing to European Commission President, Ursula Von Leyen to appoint an EU trade trouble shooter at the major trade hub.

At present, Britain’s new customs regulations have been relaxed to ease companies into the processes. With issues already causing hassle, it is set to get worse when the new regulations come into full force in July.

“Exporters are being urged to prepare for these changes now,” said the Prime Minister’s office, noting that some Irish firms faced, “severe difficulty adapting to the new systems of control.”

The office recognised that companies were often let down by their clients or even customs agents but emphasised that, “It is absolutely necessary that everyone in the supply chain knows and understands their roles and responsibilities….. It is the responsibility of the importer or exporter or their agent to ensure the required information and channels of support are available to hauliers when goods are stopped.”

To mitigate delays, firms transporting goods from Ireland to Europe are now being advised to use direct sea links and cut out transportation through UK suppliers and distribution centres where possible. As a result of this, the number of crossings for direct EU routes had more than doubled to 62 weekly sailings including 36 with France.

These routes have gained in popularity for the sheer number of heavy goods vehicles it can carry (up to 10,000) with the added option of drivers being able to drop their shipments off on the ferry and have them picked up by another driver in Europe avoiding the need to complete the sea voyage or source a coronavirus test.