As air freight volumes reach pre-covid levels, lack of capacity is becoming a big issue. The volume, capacity and load factors are reflected in the higher prices. It is cargo owners and forwarders who are driving the air cargo market, for the first time, rather than the airlines. This is via full and part charters as well as dedicated operations. This situation is in part due to the current major challenges in sea freight.
To accommodate the increase in air freight demand, a number of air freight operators are expanding their fleet, Amazon are adding more cargo planes, and their freighter operation is expected to reach about 160 flights a day by late spring 2021, almost double where it was a year ago.
In the USA and India – Dachser US, has added a weekly flight on its Frankfurt-Chicago route to fulfil increased demand, and the Indian airline SpiceJet has launched a scheduled freighter service to Singapore. This twice-weekly B737F will run from Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai, carrying cargo such as humanitarian goods, medical supplies and perishables. With 19 cargo aircraft, including five widebodies, the carrier claims it can handle up to 600 tonnes a day, making it India’s largest cargo airline.
In the last few months Air New Zealand also opened new cargo connections to meet demand from the country’s exporters. With twice-weekly services to Guangzhou, operating on Auckland-Christchurch-Guangzhou-Auckland loop. Services also now operate between Christchurch and Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Melbourne.
DHL Express has expanded its air freight capacity by signing agreements with the German holiday travel airline Condor and SmartLynx Malta. The first cargo flights under the partnership took off last week with Condor flying four of its Boeing 767s on behalf of DHL Express.
With tourism and international travel still grounded, the lack of bellyhold capacity means previously unheard of partnerships between cargo and passenger carriers are increasing.
An estimated 2,000 passenger aircraft are now being used as ‘preighters’ across the air freight sector, these are passenger aircraft flying in cargo only mode. The aircraft are partially converted to cargo by having seats removed and tracks installed.
In normal times, a third of world trade by value moves by air, and this high value commerce is vital to helping restore global economies.
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, commented: “Air cargo traffic is back to pre-crisis levels and that is some much-needed good news for the global economy. But while there is a strong demand to ship goods, our ability is capped by the shortage of belly capacity normally provided by passenger aircraft.
“That should be a sign to governments that they need to share their plans for restart so that the industry has clarity in terms of how soon more capacity can be brought online’’
But with long-haul aircraft likely to remain grounded for longer than domestic planes. The future looks particularly dire for four-engine wide-bodies as they are less fuel efficient and more expensive to run. When international travel resumes, we’re likely to see smaller aircraft, including more narrow-bodied models, on overseas routes previously flown by wide-bodies.
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