General state of development of the air cargo industry
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) claims a consistent increase in air travel compared to the 2019 and 2020 cargo trends impacted by COVID-19. IATA CEO Willie Walsh said: “Economic conditions indicate that strong upward trend will continue to peak demand at the end of the year.” But we must not forget that the COVID-19 delta strain can bring certain risks to the industry.
North American carriers are the strongest of all regions. European carriers have increased demand. Manufacturing activities, orders and delivery times of suppliers are favorable for air transportation. Also, Middle Eastern carriers noted an increase in the volume of international cargo. But Latin America continues to show weak regional performance.
Air cargo transportation: problems and challenges in the field
The COVID-19 crisis is known to be a major shock to the global economy. Since air cargo plays a critical role in global trade, disruption to supply chains has created many problems in a balanced system. Taking into account all personal protective equipment, e-commerce and products transported by air, the demand for air freight has reached an all-time high. But this is connected with the urgent problem of capacity limitation and high rates. Maulin Vakil, Managing Director of Customer Service and Performance at American Airlines Cargo, said that during 2021, “capacity is growing, but not as fast as we originally expected as passenger returns have been somewhat slower.”
To create capacity, some carriers continue to upgrade the upper fuselage space on passenger aircraft to carry cargo. One example is Emirates SkyCargo. It is one of the first air carriers in the world to make up for the shortfall by introducing cargo-only flights on its passenger aircraft. This included loading cargo onto passenger aircraft seats and overhead bays. In general, such a strategy can help deal with the capacity crisis, but aviation experts see this only as a temporary solution.
Carriers are also leveraging digital adoption to improve air travel tracking and supply chain visibility through artificial intelligence, analytics, cloud computing. For example, in April, Cathay Pacific Cargo conducted its third pilot project under the IATA ONE Record initiative. The program is based on the paperless operations of the electronic air waybill.
Dominant cargo in air transportation
Air freight plays a key role in the distribution of vaccines through well-established temperature-sensitive distribution systems using state-of-the-art technology and procedures. This capability will prove critical to the rapid and efficient transport of COVID-19 vaccines.
E-commerce continues to expand very actively, with a lot of space in cargo holds. Therefore, companies use all possible methods to expand capacity. For example, Atlas Air has contracted DHL Express, which will continue to operate 20 cargo aircraft to support the fast-growing e-commerce markets.
A large share of air transportation in imports to the countries of the European Union includes valuable goods (fur, diamonds), cut flowers and flower buds, chemical elements and compounds, materials for use in electronics, machines for pressing, drawing, cutting textile materials. In exports outside the European Union, large quantities are observed in air transportation of books, chemical elements and compounds, electron microscopes, diffraction devices, and lasers.
Air freight remains crucial for Europe. Therefore, the European Commission published guidelines on the support of air cargo transportation last year. European Union members are encouraged to promote the use of passenger aircraft for cargo operations and to temporarily abolish or flexibly apply night curfews at airports for basic air cargo operations. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has expanded the rules to allow airlines to use passenger aircraft as temporary cargo aircraft until next year.