… emphasizes Harald Gloy, Chairman of the Board of the Air Cargo Community Frankfurt e.V. and Board Member of Lufthansa Cargo. This became particularly visible after the grounding of
passenger flights, which almost halved the available air transport capacity on the market as belly space fell away. Freighters in combination with passenger planes converted to freighters
(‘preighters’), have maintained international supply chains and especially the supply of hygiene materials and medical goods required to combat the corona pandemic.
Three is better than one, Frankfurt’s local Air Cargo Community, airport operator Fraport, and Lufthansa Cargo may have thought. In any case, the trio has sent out 3 identical press releases
illustrating the current freight business at Rhine-Main. Moreover, they deliver key conclusions on the effects Covid-19 has had on the cargo business.
To put it in a nutshell: Air freight has done its homework during the last couple of months, acknowledged by both the broad public and political decision makers. That is the key message standing
somewhat camouflaged in the releases. It was the great effort of the cargo industry that kept and continues to keep supply chains running, in this way ensuring the basic supply of essential goods
to consumers and production.
Air freight is of systemic relevance, says Gloy
When international supply chains face disruptions or even break down completely in times of crisis, “only air cargo has the ability to link industry and trade on intercontinental markets
within hours. Air cargo is therefore of systemic relevance to Germany as an exporting country, but also for Europe as a whole,” Mr. Gloy emphasizes in the releases. He presents stunning
figures: “3.5 billion face masks and other protective equipment in 22,000 shipments, plus medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, as well as urgently required industrial goods, post, packages
and food for the German and European markets, sums up air cargo in Frankfurt since the worldwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic in mid-March.”
Although in many countries the worst seems to be over, with normality returning step by step, demand for cargo capacities continues to remain on a high level. This even more since most passenger
aircraft are still out of service, prolonging the capacity crunch, Michael Müller, Board member of Frankfurt’s Air Cargo Community and Executive Director Labor Relations and Member of the
Executive Board of Fraport AG, regrets. “That’s why around 50 airlines operating in Frankfurt are currently utilizing passenger aircraft just for freight transport.”
The manager says nothing about the imminent layoffs at operator Fraport AG, as recently reported in the media.
Do ‘preighters’ pay off?
The press releases also neglect any financial aspects associated with the role of passenger-converted freighter operations: “Airlines deploy them to make a fast buck in dire Covid-19
times,” a market expert bluntly told CargoForwarder Global. His points: Semi-freighters are costly to operate because they offer a significantly lower transport capacity compared to
full-freighters, but burn the same amount of fuel; they miss a large cargo door which causes time-consuming loading and unloading processes at airports, and – last but not least – the manual
working time involved and manpower required to carry out operations is very high, hence costly.
Therefore, operating semi-freighters only pays off in times when cargo rates go through the roof as they have been doing since March, ever since China started producing masses of face masks and
hygienic items that were badly needed by Covid-19-hit states in order to avoid a health crisis, he concludes.
The expert predicts that the reconversion of semi-freighters to passenger aircraft will gain speed in the weeks ahead as many carriers step up their passenger services again.
Cooperation is better than working against each other
Back to the releases and Patrik Tschirch, Managing Director of cargo handler LUG, who is also a Board member of Frankfurt’s Air Cargo Community. He points at another phenomenon that has popped up
in recent weeks: the structural changes in cargo handling caused by the flood of small packages arriving at Rhine-Main: up 30% compared to pre-coronavirus times. This package tsunami, which also
happened at other airports, catapulted the share of physical work in cargo handling steeply upwards. In Frankfurt, the challenges could only successfully be overcome “thanks to the flexible
cooperation between all cargo players involved,” Mr. Tschirch acknowledges.
Further to this, he points out how indispensable digitalization is, enabling constant data exchange between all cargo players, including customs. Hence, speeding up the throughput of goods and
eliminating errors to the benefit of all. “As a Community, we will work even harder to push this forward together with the authorities to make Frankfurt even more competitive as a
location,” the manager promises. This he states in his role as Board Member of the local Air Cargo Community, an association of more than 50 airlines, forwarding agents, ground handlers,
service providers, and airport operator Fraport.
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