Air Cargo Trends in a Pandemic World

Air Cargo Trends in a Pandemic World

By Dominic Hyde, Vice President Crēdo™ On Demand 

Previous predications in pharmaceutical transportation trends, highlighting declining air passenger numbers and air freight demand increasing, have been pandemic-propelled. Coronavirus continues causing worldwide disruption, and it is anticipated its industry impact will continue throughout 2021 and beyond.

Pandemic Response - Preighters Take Off
Pre-pandemic passenger numbers were already on the downturn. However, the COVID-19 crisis significantly accelerated that trend. The crisis capacity crunch came as the number of passenger flights plummeted and the ensuing scramble to transport pandemic payloads saw the deployment of hundreds of passenger planes as freighters, known as preighters. 

The preighters prevalence looks set to continue throughout 2021 and beyond. Although the air cargo industry faces continuing challenges, IATA predicts an anticipated 25% rise in freight tonne-kilometres this year. However, the ongoing drastic downturn in travel means the loss of a lot of capacity in passenger aircraft, and while freighter aircraft are still present and working hard, fleet growth takes time, so there will be a slower response to replacing some of the capacity lost from the passenger side of the industry.

Large Widebody Aircraft – Grounded or Retired
Before COVID-19, it was predicted airlines would start cutting flights from schedules, mothball larger aircraft, decline production options and look to utilize smaller, more efficient aircraft in the future for environmental and economic reasons. All of those decisions have been massively accelerated.The forecast to park some of the larger, widebody aircraft has been brought forward significantly, due to the COVID-19 crisis.However,The ongoing impact of the pandemic has meant the majority of all 747 freighter aircraft have or are being retired.

Sea Change in Modes of Transport
There will be ongoing developments in the sea freight sector, which has an estimated 17 million TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) serviceable globally, of which six million containers are routinely turning and carrying freight. Given the sea freight situation, we will continue to see the utilization of air freight to transport pandemic payloads. When it comes to economics, not having passengers on the main deck is a much more expensive operational option. However, pharma customers are prepared to pay those premiums to move their product.

The volumetric efficiency on aircraft is critical at the moment because it is such a scarce resource we need to ensure the best use is made of it. With air freight capacity a dwindling resource, it is even more important to have the efficient packing density of temperature controlled product on such limited airfreight resources. 

Vaccines vs. Virus - Rapid Response
As the development of successful COVID-19 vaccines continues at a rapid rate, the world’s first approved vaccines are already being administered as part of ongoing mass vaccination programs worldwide.Temperature controlled packaging manufacturers continue to play a pivotal part in the global deployment of these approved vital vaccines, including those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Moderna.

As COVID-19 vaccines fall into different families of technology, some have frozen and deep frozen temperature requirements, leading to a scramble to qualify existing solutions for shipping at those specific lower temperatures.

2021 will see the industry learning to operate in the new norm with everyone getting used to that new norm. Next year we might start to see some improvements and efficiencies, but I think this year is about adjusting our planning, our capacities and our operations around this spike in demand and the gradually improving capacity picture--almost like wearing in a new pair of shoes.

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