Despite an increase in air cargo charters and passenger aircraft operating as freighters, that has added significant air cargo capacity, the demand to air freight critical goods outstrips demand and is likely to do so for some time
With lockdowns set to continue for at least another month in Europe, demand for face masks, PPE and other medical products will continue, which means air freight demand and prices will remain very high from China, with charter rates around double the normal rate.
Standard air freight rates are based on weight and volume and with gloves, masks, gowns and so on lightweight products, it is costing about $185,000 for a 40ft container equivalent, averaging 70 cubic metres or eight tonnes, from China to the UK, which is four to five times the typical rate.
There are currently lead times of 10 days to charter a wide-body freighter such as B777 or a B747 when normally it would be one to two days.
Charter flights are totally focused on transporting COVID-19 related products, which means that perishables and imports of fresh produce to certain countries are likely to suffer as all available capacity is being reserved for the pandemic relief effort.
IAG Cargo which include Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia is operating charter and cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft with shipments including hand sanitiser supplies from China, India and the Middle East destined for the NHS.
Using bellyhold capacity on a mix of Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft, Etihad Cargo is introducing services between Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, Chennai, Kerala, Karachi, and Amsterdam, in addition to passenger freighters already operating scheduled cargo-only flights to Seoul, Beijing, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Jakarta, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Riyadh.
The new routes have been added specifically to ensure continuity of fresh imports including meat, fish and seafood, fruits, and vegetables, in addition to pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.
Etihad Cargo has also operated a series of special charters to carry urgent consignments of medical supplies from mainland China and Hong Kong to destinations in Europe and the Americas.
Non-medical cargo continues to be uplifted by traditional sea freight, but options do remain for more urgent shipments including express sea freight and sea/air on charter aircraft via Dubai and Singapore.