Civilian Airlines Grounded

Air Canada, WestJet and Porter have all grounded much of their fleets, news reports inform. What is not discussed are the ramifications of the cargo void this creates.

More than half of the world's air cargo business is carried on passenger aircraft, Amsterdam-based air cargo analyst WorldACD writes. That volume rises to more than 60 per cent for cargo shipped by plane between the United States and Europe.

This means that travel bans imposed on both sides of the Atlantic will "cause a severe drop in capacity offered," the firm told Morning Trade. That puts increased pressure on express delivery firms like UPS, FedEx and DHL to take up the slack and has left importers of high-value items like medicine or perishable goods, such as fish and other food products, scrambling to make new arrangements, John Drake, executive director for supply chain policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.

"You're talking about medicines for diabetics, insulin for example, and other critical products where there may be a limited supply in the U.S.," Drake said. The ability to ship those goods in the cargo holds of passenger planes "has largely dried up," he added.

The severity of the situation was reflected in a tweet on March 18 from the International Civil Aviation Organization, an international standard-setting body for aviation at the United Nations, which wrote: "There is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of the global air cargo supply chain and to maintain the availability of critical medications and equipment such as ventilators, masks, & other health & hygiene items which will help reduce the spread of #COVID19."

What it means is that Canada could commandeer grounded planes and crew to move cargo internally in Canada and to bring into Canada crucial food, medicine and health supplies from Asia, Europe, Mexico and elsewhere. China is offering medical supplies to the world now that its internal demand has eased.

In its March 21 announcement, the Trudeau government said it is working with Canadian airlines and foreign governments to provide access to commercial flights for Canadian travellers who want to return home. The flights will prioritize stranded travellers who are Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens. In addition, only travellers who are asymptomatic will be allowed to board, and all travellers will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry. "In the first series of flights to help Canadians return home, Air Canada will operate a special flight today from Morocco. Flights will also be planned for Peru and Spain, and other countries as soon as possible. Factors such as the number of Canadians, airspace closures, and the local situation are being taken into consideration in order to identify the locations for these flights. We are currently working with Air Canada and are engaged with other airlines as we assess global needs," the government press release informed.

(With files from U.S. International Trade)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 9 - March 21, 2020

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Civilian Airlines Grounded


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