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  • Writer's pictureTeam CargoTalk

Air cargo to the rescue during crises

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, the challenges can be many. These include aircraft availability, willingness of operators to fly to austere locations, overflight permits, landing rights, and the ever-changing situation where specific aircraft types are not permitted to operate, thus restricting the increasing costs, according to air cargo experts.

Abigail Mathias

Addressing the role of aviation when natural disasters or crises strike at the recent World Cargo Symposium, Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA, said, “When disaster strikes, airlines have delivered vital supplies to affected communities around the world.”

He said during the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, the cargo airlines operated over 350 relief and repatriation flights to flow in relief material to affected areas. “I am proud to be part of such an industry,” Walsh added.

Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo, Qatar Airways Cargo

Qatar Airways Cargo is keen on extending a helping hand when it comes to mounting relief operations. We have ferried relief cargo on our scheduled flights and sent it through dedicated charter flights to several countries.

As air freight capacity dropped during COVID, Qatar Airways Cargo operated its full fleet of freighters, along with belly-hold flights and passenger freighters to maintain global supply chains. We converted six Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft into mini-freighters to transport cargo. This was possible due to the collaborative efforts by our team and partners.

Qatar Airways Cargo and Airlink have delivered 58 shipments on behalf of 22 organizations offering transportation relief material. We live up to our tagline ‘Moved by people’. Every relief operation comes with its set of challenges. We are pressed for time to obtain necessary regulatory approvals and it is important to have ground support at the destination airport. We require timely action from parties involved, while preparing a logistics plan—this is where team work and collaboration are of importance.

Going the extra mile

Support from authorities is not only crucial when it comes to regulatory processes, but also on ground activities. Approvals should come within 24 hours and additional security measures should be provided on the ground to ensure the airline staff can carry out all activities without threats.

Our staff is well versed in moving relief shipments and understand the importance of these operations. We maintain a robust training and development programme so that the staff are trained in handling sensitive cargo across our global network: we have in-house Centralised Emergency Response Training. We conduct exercises that simulate emergency and business impact situations so that we can verify and improve our response strategies.

Neil Dursley, Chief Commercial Officer, Chapman Freeborn

Chapman Freeborn has been involved in providing aid during natural and man-made disasters for 50 years. Providing relief to the affected depends on the current wider market conditions—aircraft availability. The sheer scale of the emergencies determine the impact it has on the air cargo market. Chapman Freeborn activates its Global Emergency Response Team within hours of one of these events occurring.

We have supported multiple freight forwarders and humanitarian organizations and delivered medicines to various countries during COVID. We were able to operate flights from multiple organizations from Europe, the Middle East, India, and Far East during natural disasters.

Many organizations have facilities in the UAE and Jordan that help in reducing transportation costs. We worked closely with multiple European governments to charter flights for sending their emergency response teams. In Afghanistan, we operated flights into Kabul weeks after the USA and ISAF Forces pulled out, transporting multiple humanitarian teams.

Obstacles and challenges

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, the challenges can be many. They include aircraft availability, willingness of operators to go to austere locations, overflight permits, landing rights, and the ever-changing situation where specific aircraft types are not permitted to operate.

We work closely with forwarders, specialist teams, and governmental and humanitarian organizations to provide the best solutions in the industry. Our team of experts work with our airline operator partners. We also liaise with long-standing partners to provide specific support in these locations. Our dedicated Flight Support team evaluates upfront the best airports to handle wide-body freighters, obtain permits and or overflight approvals.

Our teams of experienced subject matter experts are enhanced by junior trainees based in many locations around the world. They work with the leaders of the Emergency Response Teams, receive on-the-job training, ground handling, and witness the challenges faced daily, and learn quickly.

Nabil Sultan, Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates SkyCargo

With Dubai as the Emirates SkyCargo hub and 140 destinations in our network, the carrier can reach billions of people within four hours, giving a geographical advantage in distributing emergency supplies.

As one of the world leaders in air freight, Emirates SkyCargo has established humanitarian airbridges to offer NGOs free of charge cargo capacity. Access is frequently a key obstacle, while ferrying goods to crisis zones, with damaged infrastructure or ongoing conflict. Emirates SkyCargo’s network enables us to reach remote locations at a faster pace.

Emergency cargo such as pharma and medical supplies require specialist transportation. During the pandemic, Emirates SkyCargo led the aviation and air cargo industry to help markets across the world. Leveraging our industry-leading pharmaceutical cool chain infrastructure and temperature-controlled EU

GDP-certified airside hub, it transported one billion doses (4,200 tonnes) to affected countries. Close to two-thirds of the billion vaccines were ferried to developing countries.

We have been involved in many humanitarian response missions, harnessing the full reach of Emirates SkyCargo global operations to support in the crises.

Special training

Over the years, we have built extensive experience in supporting humanitarian relief logistics. From the longstanding relationships with local and global NGOs that enable quick response to liaison with ground handling staff in airports around the world, the Emirates SkyCargo team is poised to deploy humanitarian supplies to communities around the world impacted by natural disasters, medical emergencies, international outbreaks, and other crises.

Supriya Salve, Partner, Vegat Logistics Services LLC, Dubai

The reach of air cargo enable relief organizations to respond swiftly amidst chaos. My organization belongs to clearing and forwarding. An operation includes aiding in recovery and rebuilding process for communities in need.

Some obstacles include limited resources, inadequate planning, communication challenges, unpredictable nature of emergencies, potential security risks, and taking quick decisions under high-pressure situations. Logistical issues, such as transportation and supply chain disruptions, can also complicate emergency efforts.

While handling a crisis in a dangerous territory, one must collaborate with local authorities and organizations, pre-position emergency response teams, conduct regular training and simulations, leverage technology for real-time data collection and analysis, and implement effective communication systems.

H.E. Major General Staff Pilot Stephen A. Toumajan, General Manager, National Search and Rescue Center

The NSRC is responsible for all civilian Search and Rescue (SAR) operations within the UAE’s Air and Maritime SAR Region. Aviation efforts via search and rescue teams play a major role in the UAE.

The use of sophisticated technology for air and cargo could be utilized to locate people who are lost and in need of help.

Training of the staff is ongoing to help with emergency and relief operations. It does not matter if one has been in the business for five or 25 years. The employees must be updated on a regular basis in order to adapt to various circumstances.

Carlo De Ruvo, President, Confetra, Italian Confederation of Logistics, Transport, Freight Forwarding and relevant supply chain

In Italy, we do not have a clear perception of air freight within the Italian economy. Thirty per cent of Italian GDP is generated by exports. Of this high value commodities such as luxury goods and pharma have a primary position and, within the logistic industry, high value commodities prefer air freight to other modes of transport.

During COVID, this perception changed following realization that air freight was critical to maintain our economy as raw material, auto spare parts and equipment could not arrive by ocean freight. In the second phase of COVID, air freight, which guaranteed a regular flow of medical equipment, assumed a place of importance. Air freight became even more visible following transportation of vaccines from the production plants located all over the world to and from Italy. Before the pandemic, air freight capacity in Italy was based on pax flights since Italy is an important tourism destination.

Pax flights disappeared overnight after the pandemic, but the Italian logistic industry, once again, demonstrated its flexibility and resilience by deploying many solutions along with airlines partners and charter brokers.

Simona Bakaya, Operations Manager, United Legacy Travels, Kuwait

Air cargo plays a vital role when it came to offering emergency supplies in the past five years. Its role during the pandemic has created momentum as the industry entered its recovery phase. Many airports managed to sustain or grow their cargo operations during the pandemic, which provided liquidity for the airport operators and, in some cases, ensured the longer-term solvency of the airport business.

Unforeseen events, such as the political conflicts or sudden weather changes, can impact the delivery of goods. Companies need to be prepared for such situations. Preparedness helps the firms to keep the supply chain ongoing without disruptions and limit delay in delivery of goods.

International air cargo teams must ensure coordination between the crisis management team and qualified specialists, and if necessary, information hotlines for the public be set up at a short notice.

To ensure that the crisis management team is never unprepared, solutions must be prepared, including digitized crisis prevention and emergency planning.


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