Air cargo industry resilient amidst crisis

Amid a year of lockdowns, the Indian air cargo industry has not only proved to be a critical area of resiliency for airlines and airports has also helped in covering up the damage that has been done during the pandemic.

There is no denying the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics of air cargo business. The crisis has brought all the stakeholders like government, airports, airlines, cargo terminal operators, freight forwarders or truckers, exporters, and importers on the same plane and all of them have successfully collaborated to keep the industry moving during the pandemic.

We are determined to increase cargo capacity in India
Talking about the resiliency shown by the air cargo sector, Hardeep Singh Puri, Civil Aviation Minister, Government of India, says, “From March 25, 2020 the entire country faced total lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing shutdown of the country’s economic activities, witnessing 23.9 per cent contraction in the Indian economy during the initial period of this crisis. All the sectors of economic activities have been affected seriously including the civil aviation sector, but the air cargo logistics segment of the Indian aviation sector has been resilient. A degree of optimism has come from IMF that in 2021-22 the Indian economy will bounce back with 11 per cent growth. Lifeline Udaan operation of MoCA has normalised the transportation of essential goods. Some of the disruptive effect of the pandemic is still visible but the air cargo logistics industry will bounce back soon to what it was in the pre-COVID period and much more. During the initial period of the pandemic, the government was able to transport 1,500 to 1,900 MT of medical supplies by air.”

He said, “We are determined to increase cargo capacity and operation by Indian carriers. To increase cargo capacity in India, the government encourages the operation of non-scheduled flights too. In January 2021, India reached 94 per cent of cargo volume handled during the pre-COVID era and domestic cargo volume of some of the Indian airports have reached growth beyond imagination like Srinagar Airport at 300 per cent, Surat Airport at 200 per cent, Amritsar Airport at 80 per cent, and Varanasi Airport achieved more than 96 per cent of cargo volume handled in pre-COVID period. The world community has appreciated India’s contribution to the supply of COVID vaccine to other world countries.” The minister expressed his views at the Air Cargo Virtual Meet organised by ACFI on the theme of ‘Changing Consumption Patterns– Transforming Supply Chains’.

Indian aviation sector survives due to the potential of air cargo
Calling cargo an integral part of the aviation system, at the 7th edition of PHD Global Aviation & Air Cargo Summit, Pradeep Singh Kharola, IAS, Hon’ble Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, says, “Complete movement of essential medicines and goods has been facilitated via civil aviation and cargo. Aviation has emerged as a resilient sector that can survive through this pandemic.” Kharola mentioned that the Indian aviation sector has faced a lot of challenges caused by the pandemic but survived due to the air freight and cargo, implicating the extensive potential of air cargo across borders. An aviation system can function when all the parts of the system function efficiently and in sync with each other.

He emphasised that aviation is an international activity, we should understand and appreciate that it’s an activity between nations, it’s economically important for all the nations. We have to work together, open new airports, bring in efficiency, reduce cost, and build equitable and strong partnerships between the nations and airlines.

Government is always ready to address the challenges of air cargo industry
Cargo has been one of the favorite subjects of her department in the Ministry and explaining what government has done during the crisis situation, Vandana Aggarwal, Sr. Economic Advisor, Ministry of Civil Aviation, says, “One of the unique features of the National Air Cargo Policy Outline were the accomplishments of action plans during COVID period. The contribution of ACFI & other associations was immense. The government has promoted ‘Open Sky Policy’ for imbedding Indian trade system and the requirement of creating transshipment facilities and operation of dedicated freighters. Government is always ready to address the challenges of the air cargo industry.”

Cargo IT platform infrastructure facilities have served remarkably under COVID period and with the help of digital processing the industry started with 17 per cent operation in March 2020 and reached up to 94 per cent volume operation in December 2020 compared to pre-COVID period.

According to Aggarwal, “The domestic cargo had a better story during COVID with over 97 per cent volume of agro products movement domestically and during the same pandemic period,” in adding, “Government has operationalised new domestic cargo terminals at Surat, Indore, Bhopal airports. We have also incentivised domestic movement of agro products from Himalayan regions to big cities. Dedicated freighters like SpiceJet came up to reach to remote places.”

Commenting on logistics of vaccine, “Vaccine movement in India has been the most successful by completing seamlessly within the shortest time period as per the standards specified by the manufacturers without a single discrepancy. Freight industry has supported greatly at the 29 disseminating points. Moreover, vaccine Maitry Program of GOI was introduced successfully to supply vaccine shipments to our neighbouring countries during the period of constraints. There was a need for creating transshipment hubs by the integrators for harnessing the needs of e-commerce movement with speed.”

Aggarwal shared her views at the Air Cargo Virtual Meet organised by ACFI on the theme of ‘Changing Consumption Patterns– Transforming Supply Chains’.