If you are wondering what happens next once the world moves past the COVID-19
pandemic, then you might consider the passenger airlines serving as cargo
carriers right now. They are thrusting our industry forward as a powerhouse
of the new economy.
Not since The Berlin Airlift in 1949 has there been so much global attention
directed toward air cargo.
Not Just For Emergencies Anymore
It’s time to start thinking about
ways to accelerate the development of air cargo in a 21st century that
frequently needs cargo space on every available airplane. We can improve
access and conditions for everyone in the world through expanded air commerce.
Could this be the time of air cargo’s
great leap forward?
Well, as Dr. Seuss said:
“You have brains in your head.
“You have feet in your shoes.
“You can steer yourself any direction
An Aircraft Bonanza
As airlines receive the reality check that
market share does not necessarily mean profits, fleets of older aircraft
will soon take off to the desert never to return.
But wait a cotton-picking New York minute!
The expected downsizing of aircraft fleets,
which is unprecedented in modern airline history, will result in a flooding
of the market with aircraft of all sizes capable of adaptive reuse.
Maybe now is the time for the big thinkers
and the dreamers and doers to get on the same page because it seems these
days, everybody, even airport management, has air cargo on their minds.
Today Warren ‘Too Tall’ Jones
(6’4’’) is standing tall as Vice President Business
Development for Alliance Ground International (AGI). He reports that “in
Chicago, ground handlers are working with O’Hare International Airport
officials to repurpose passenger ramps to cargo handling. AGI is handling
up to 15 cargo aircraft a day and the crunch from carrying freight continues.
“Internally, AGI people are quite
energized by finally being recognized for the major role logistics plays
in the world,” ‘Too Tall’ exclaimed.
Grounded In Dubai
Dubai, where COVID-19 has completely ground Emirates Airlines passenger
flights, effectively doing what no competitor has been able to do, the
cargo keeps on moving but the mood is somber.
“Not much good news with all these
reports of pain and suffering as the pandemic continues to descend on
the world,” reports Lionel Smith, Managing Director of ACI Logistics
“We have gone from news of deaths
in far off places to experiencing up close and personal the sad fate of
people we knew and loved, including Floyd Cardoz, a friend and school
classmate from Bombay who recently succumbed at 59 from COVID-19 in New
“On a positive note, the UAE authorities
are being very pro-active and monitoring the situation closely by the
minute (literally) and have taken adequate and timely measures to inform
the general public/governmental agency personnel along with private enterprises
to implement ‘Remote Work’ systems to prioritize everyone’s
“All sectors and the general public
are welcoming the necessary precautionary measures and the guidelines
on sanitization and social distancing, which have been the baseline for
“In UAE, still up and running are
the Health Sector/Pharmaceutical Sector/Food Retail Outlets (including
animal feed)/Logistics & Delivery Services/Supply Chain/Banking Sector
and a few other essential services,” Lionel said.
Price Gouging Rampant
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot
of unscrupulous price gouging at this point in time especially within
the airline industry.
“Taking advantage of the current situation
to make unjustifiable premiums by charging 2.5-3.5 times over the normal
charter price is being downright greedy,” Lionel exclaimed.
“This unfair and nasty business is
especially seen when there are requirements to transport essential commodities
like Masks/Ventilators/Gloves/Sanitizers/Suits or Food/Medical Supplies,”
Looking Ahead Will See Change
“At a limbo to what the future holds
for any one of us, we pray for all those suffering and will keep supporting
all on the frontline.
“As an industry, however, there is
no doubt that right now is a defining moment in time,” Lionel said.
“Now we are all working from home
and confined to our compound, but the goods keep moving.
“I guess this is a way of life we
all may need to adapt to for quite some time and that could change things
forever,” Lionel Smith assures.
To get a a handle on what
all of this means to airports, Dan Muscatello who has been involved in
the design and operation of airport cargo facilities all over the world
for the past 30 years shares some thoughts.
2020 A Year Of Firsts
“It has never happened before, but
as COVID-19 has already made clear, a global reorder is in order for manufacturing
and logistics that require clear lines of distribution, driven by lots
of smart new thinking in airline cargo departments and airport planning.
“The challenge will be to anticipate
and address the necessary changes in an industry that will be evolving
“The virus has led to massive global
isolation and a resultant dramatic increase in e-commerce. At the same
time, the reduction in passenger flights, and the curtailment of many
international routes altogether, have shifted the burden of air cargo
to freighters and an extraordinary increase in cargo apron requirements.
We have seen the epicenters of the virus shift within and across continents,
and with the movement has come critical changes to logistics chains. Some
of these changes, or some variation of them will remain as the industry
adapts to the “new world”. This will undoubtedly have an impact
on airports and their ability to adapt.
“In the U.S., the forthcoming 10 billion
dollar federal relief package will be a major factor in helping airports
maintain their financial equilibrium. However, given the losses that airports
are sustaining in these testing times, (and which may continue for some
time to come), there will remain major shortfalls, as government subsidies
are allocated to critical maintenance and operating expenses, and the
coverage of existing bond payments. It is also reasonable to anticipate
that any remaining funds will address passenger amenities and terminal
modifications focusing on security, safety, and health. That will leave
little airport funding remaining for potential cargo infrastructure and
“As the emerging shipping volumes
and routes begin to either crystalize or further evolve, many airports
may be challenged to meet the capital requirements necessary to construct
new apron and facilities. Conversely, these same changes in manufacturing
and shipping patterns may reduce cargo volumes at other airports. Airport
cargo forecasts will need to be revisited as will capital development
plans -some of which may be delayed while others will require substantial
acceleration. The future of air cargo development argues strongly for
two things. The first is flexibility that will enable an airport to adjust
quickly to whatever the new reality may be. The second will be the increased
use of public-private partnerships to provide focus, expertise, and critical
funding to meet the new requirements.”
“A number of new development initiatives,
may include non-aviation and/or commercial opportunities that will support
not only airport revenue streams but also regional development initiatives.
In some instances, the most comprehensive and best approach to a such
a project may include over overlaps between the airport and the municipality.
This is particularly true in instances where growth in e-commerce is involved.
In such cases, traditional solicitation processes for development can
create delays or require segmenting of a bid process to the detriment
of all parties from timing and cost perspectives. The potential loss of
economies of scale can add otherwise avoidable costs to a broad, regionally-inclusive
project, with flow-through impacts on tenants and users. While the need
for transparency is essential in a public solicitation, it may be time
to revisit existing processes to capitalize on the availability of capital
and the willingness of the private sector to invest in a financially challenged
aviation industry," Dan said.
We spoke to Ram Menen who, with his lovely
wife Malou and son Ram Jr., is comfortably situated in Luxembourg.
The man that nearly two decades ago started
with one airplane he loaded practically by himself, and then built Emirates
SkyCargo into a world empire of the sky, looks at this current situation
and says with a smile:
“We left our place in KL to return
to COVID-19-driven, shelter-in-place living here.”
No Slowdown No Recession
“As to what is likely to happen post
COVID-19 when the world situation gets back to normal, I don’t think
we should worry about going into a recession.
“Right now, it is a global reset that
will reboot, after this event.
“The positive thing is that it would
have cleaned out quite a bit of unwanted stuff. “New
business opportunities will present themselves.”
Another Of China’s Greatest
“Recall that SARS in 2003 gave online
shopping a shot in the arm and catapulted the likes of Amazon, Alibaba,
“COVID-19 is likely to boost continued
growth of e-commerce and online shopping and fire up food and supermarket
delivery logistics as well as promote acceptance of working from home
and companies rethinking their own real estate requirements,” Ram
Work Learn & Play At Home
“Schools and educational institutions
are moving into more online learning and have demonstrated the ability
to grow their existing capacities.
“Not to be overlooked as well are
new IT platforms that will facilitate many of the new initiatives of everyday
life, post-Corona virus,” Ram Menen said.
Shelves Are Empty
“As to the current scenario, there
will be an urgent requirement for restocking as well as moving components
(especially electronics and automotive) for resumption of manufacturing
“Restocking of the retail outlets
will also be a high priority for businesses trying to get back on their
“There will be a frenzy of activities
to make up for the lost ground.”
All Along The Watchtower
“Of course,” Ram cautions, “a
lot will depend on how long this situation will last. The longer it lasts,
the more damage it will do to the world economy and the return back to
normalcy will be more drawn out.
“It is encouraging that most of the
governments have stated that they will have measures put in place to ensure
that companies don’t collapse, and people are not made redundant.
“Despite this, there will be pain,
there will be job losses, and a percentage of unsupported businesses will
“However, in the big picture, the
world economy will get back on its feet fairly quickly.
“It is encouraging to see that China
is already getting back to normal.”
Too Many Eggs In One Basket
“While companies are getting back
on their feet, there is likely to be a lot of soul searching in the supply
chain management/operations arena,” Ram Menen declared.
“Unwittingly, the world had become
too dependent on one single country, China, by putting all their eggs
into one basket.
“The world will be looking at multi-regional
sourcing/manufacturing activities in order to prevent exposure to such
catastrophic incidents and shutdowns.
“We can expect interesting times ahead,”
Ram Menen said.
So Long Tomorrow
is a time that we have never seen before in the history of aviation,”
said Gentleman Mike White, President of Cargo Network Services CNS
“Air cargo once again has come forward
with new ideas and great leaders in our industry.”
A Time For Greatness
“Can you imagine what today’s
supply chain would have been like without freighters and passenger aircraft
carrying cargo right now?
“What is even more remarkable are
the people on the ground, the people loading the aircraft, the dedicated
people on the ramp and the flight crews that are flying these magnificent
machines while their families are hunkered down at home.”
Imagine All The People
“This isn’t a European, North
American or Asian effort but a total global effort to deliver medical
supplies to save lives, electronic components that keep parts available
to run our Internet and food supplies to sustain us,” Gentleman
“In the last few days I have had the
honor of working with dedicated individuals in our industry, the government
and new people I have never met before.
“They are keeping those diamonds in
the sky flying.
“When this is all over, our industry
will be very different, but the dedication and ingenuity will be stronger
“We have much more to do to get all
the grounded aircraft in the air.
“It may take some time, but it will
be air cargo that kept aviation afloat.
“We should promote to others all the
things we do and be proud of it as well.”