Air cargo capacity: Time to take off

Air cargo capacity, which is still below pre-pandemic levels, has been affected to an extent by the slower recovery of passenger flights, says Amitabh Khosla, IATA, Country Director for India, Nepal and Bhutan. Ongoing COVID-19 has highlighted importance of air cargo.

Priyanshi Bana

How is the Air cargo industry gearing up with the new variant insight?

We have yet to receive the December cargo data. But the more transmissible nature of the Omicron variant of coronavirus has contributed to labour shortages due to staff being in quarantine. Coupled with many states re-imposition of some form of restrictions due to the variant, the reduction of passenger flights would have impacted the cargo capacity towards the end of 2021.

What have been the challenges faced by the air cargo sector in the past two years of the pandemic?

The ongoing COVID-19 has highlighted the important role that air cargo plays in delivering essential goods — from PPE, COVISD-19 vaccines to computer chips as well as food. The challenge is in fulfilling the demand, though air cargo capacity is still below pre-pandemic levels. This is being affected by the slower recovery of passenger flights, which contributes about 50 per cent of the cargo capacity.

Do you think airlines still need to convert to preighters or freighters in order to survive?

The conversion of passenger aircraft to preighters took place at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis – when passenger flights were down to a minimum. Since then, we have seen many more passenger flights resume, although not to the level pre-COVID-19 levels. Cargo capacity is still below pre-COVID, but not to the desperate levels at the peak of the crisis.

We have seen infections peaking in countries at different times, which resulted in various countries imposing restrictions that at times resulted in disruption of supply chain. Preighters or freighters continue to play a significant role in closing the gap in these situations.

Any expectations from the Indian government to help make the air cargo more efficient?

The Indian government has generally been proactive in working towards automation, to expedite the supply chain logistics and growing infrastructure.  India in 2020 had revoked its longstanding Open Sky Policy for cargo flights. While this change may have been undertaken in view of the impact of the pandemic, liberalizing the same once again will help Indian shippers, as well as India’s foreign trade and exports.