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Cortney Robinson, Air Transport Officer, International Civil Aviation Organization

The extraordinary circumstances in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged the air cargo community, but have shown how the sector has remained both resilient and value-generating as it quickly adapts to a fast-evolving situation.

To address these challenges ICAO has engaged its Member States, industry, and other stakeholders by taking action, including:

  • State Letter SL 2020/15 urging state adherence to relevant standards within Annex 9 of the Chicago Convention, as well as participation in the ICAO Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
  • State Letter SL 2020/47 asking states to review existing or planned air traffic services contingency arrangements, as well as to note the importance of avoiding undue or inadvertent restrictions; and
  • Reports on the economic effects of COVID-19 on civil aviation.

These deliverables and others are found on the ICAO website:

The lack of e-commerce data specific to air cargo on a global scale makes it impossible to measure the immediate impact COVID-19 has had on e-commerce.  However, there is a strong basis for research on the long-term impact that COVID-19 will have on the global supply chains that feed e-commerce.

Of significance is the observation that the COVID-19 episode has precipitated a divergence between air cargo and passenger services.  As countries have closed their borders to passengers (with the notable exception of repatriation flights), many quickly took measures to facilitate air cargo shipments.

ICAO is Responding to Immediate Needs

There have been some immediate responses from leading e-commerce companies that have already affected the global supply chain.  For example, Amazon is addressing the global situation that has caused logistical overload by prioritizing its operations in the United States, where shipping times have tripled (e.g., one-day deliveries are now three to four days).  This response includes its announced intention to hire 100,000 employees.

Where state-level intervention is required, air cargo stakeholders, which include air carriers and freight forwarders, have asked ICAO to work with regulators and encourage:

  • Extension of expiring licences, certifications or approvals e.g. pilot licences, dangerous goods recurrent training;
  • Facilitation of charter flights operating essential services, providing them greater operational and financial flexibility, as well as hoping that airlines will allocate some cargo capacity for scheduled services;
  • Flexibility on rules regulating transport of crews, curfews, slot amendments, etc.; and
  • Temporary granting of additional traffic rights (e.g., seventh freedom for cargo flights).

ICAO is examining how to best restore global air traffic operations to normal while also making progress in these areas and updates can be found via the abovementioned website.

Some states have already responded to these needs.  For example, Chinese government will support air cargo operators needing to lease or purchase freighters.  Further, it will direct support toward express delivery firms to help them support expanded air services and overseas operations.

Long-term Actions

Uncertainty is the only thing that is for certain in the months ahead.  The implementation of prolonged social distancing and “stay-at-home” measures worldwide due to the pandemic will quite likely have a lasting—and beneficial—effect on e-commerce.  These measures have exposed many who otherwise would not have experimented with online purchasing to its benefits.  These measures have significantly helped to sustain air cargo demand even in the face of not only a sharp and immediate drop in passenger demand, but also potential global recession.

The major freight integrators, having significant capacity, are seen by some as being largely capable filling the void left by belly capacity both across the Pacific (as China continues its post-COVID-19 recovery), as well as the transatlantic routes.

The reliance of air cargo operations on capacity provided by belly space on passenger aircraft has led to a significant bottleneck that is impeding e-commerce throughput thus raising shipping rates—by some estimates, threefold.  Further, according to a certified aircraft appraiser, the COVID-19 experience has highlighted the shortage of freighter aircraft and caused their lease rates to double.  Some of these costs will be passed on to the consumer.

The ICAO Long-term Vision for International Air Transport Liberalization offers a solution for the evolving air cargo sector by guiding Member States to recognize the unique characteristics of the air cargo market and develop policies that allow it to respond to its business environment.  As the current situation with COVID-19 shows, the air cargo environment can be very different from that of passenger services.

ICAO has reaffirmed its commitment to help States better understand the benefits of these policies and any challenges that might come with them so they can implement more liberal economic regulatory frameworks, which are perhaps the surest way to ensure air cargo carriers can develop robust operations and fleets, as well as have the flexibility to respond to situations like the current one.

Compounding this is the trend toward economic protectionism that was evident before the current pandemic.  There is growing concern that some leading economies might soon move to develop trade policies with the goal to secure certain supply chains (e.g., pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, lithium-ion batteries) to meet their needs with domestic production, which could significantly affect e-commerce flows globally.  ICAO is monitoring this pandemic-induced supply chain evolution with the intention of further study to determine how will it impact global air cargo operations going forward.

Gerry’s dnata Expands Offering; Launches Line Maintenance Services in Pakistan

Karachi, Pakistan, 13 January 2022 – Gerry’s dnata, Pakistan’s leading ground services provider, has expanded its offering. The company obtained Maintenance Organization Approval from the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority to provide aircraft line maintenance services to airline customers, and now offers a one-stop-shop of ground handling, cargo and technical services at the airports of Karachi (KHI), Lahore (LHE) and Islamabad (ISB). 

Gerry’s dnata’s team of professionals can provide full line maintenance support and are trained on customers’ company procedures, providing a seamless service to both passenger and cargo airlines.

The launch customer is flydubai, which Gerry’s dnata already serves at four airports in Pakistan providing a range of ramp and passenger handling services to the airline and its customers.

Syed Haris Raza, Vice President of Gerry’s dnata, said: “As Pakistan’s leading ground handler, we constantly enhance our offering to best meet the needs of our customers. We are confident that our airline partners will welcome the expansion of our portfolio and take advantage of getting quality and safe ground handling and technical services from a single provider. Our team of highly trained, seasoned professionals will deliver world-class quality and safety for our valued customers.”

Mick Hills, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Maintenance at flydubai, said: “We are looking forward to expanding our relationship with Gerry’s dnata to include line maintenance services in Pakistan. Having a single, local provider to oversee our line maintenance, as well as ground handling, will add more efficiencies to our fleet management and ensure a quicker turnaround of our aircraft.”

Gerry’s dnata have the capability to handle the following aircraft types for scheduled, unscheduled and AOG services:

  • Airbus A319/A320/A321 NEO (CFM LEAP-1A)
  • Airbus A318/319/320/321 (CFM56)
  • Airbus A319/320/321 (IAE V2500)
  • Airbus A330 (RR RB 211 Trent 700)
  • Airbus A330 (GE CF6)
  • Boeing B737-600/700/800/900 (CFM56)

Over the past year, Gerry’s dnata has continued to enhance its operations and services to deliver the highest level of quality and safety and help airline customers safely transport passengers and precious cargo to and from Pakistan. It made significant investments in infrastructure, technology and equipment, including the opening of a new, state-of- the-art cargo facility in Lahore which doubled the company’s cargo handling capacity at the airport.

Gerry’s dnata’s quality of service helped it win or retain over 20 contracts with key accounts across its network. The company also achieved prestigious industry certifications, including GDP and IATA’s ISAGO accreditation, which validate its capabilities and place the business in a market leading position.

Gerry’s dnata serves more than 20 airline customers at seven Pakistani airports. The company’s team consists of over 2,500 dedicated aviation professionals who assist more than seven million passengers and handle 150,000 tons of cargo annually.

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Gabor Vasarhelyi
Public Relations, dnata