Air cargo community responds to pandemic supply shortage

Close up of a white cargo plane being loaded.

The aviation and air cargo sectors have mobilized in a big way to help supply personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer, ventilators and other desperately needed items for combating the deadly COVID-19 disease.

The crisis is shining a light on the importance of logistics and supply chain management for helping save lives, but also for bringing staples and food to populations sheltering in place.

Air transport is being heavily relied on because many emergency supplies are located overseas, or across the country, and air is the fastest mode for getting them to where the outbreak is spreading.

Here is a rundown of some companies that are pitching in with relief efforts around the world:

  • Wen-Parker Logistics, Elmont, New York, is coordinating flights of PPE from Vietnam and Thailand that are scheduled to be delivered at Rickenbacker International Airport near Columbus, Ohio.
  • RCS Logistics, Springfield Gardens, New York, which normally ships fashion products for clients, is receiving three weekly flights of medical supplies from Shanghai through Rickenbacker.
  • A Kalitta Air freighter arrived Monday at Rickenbacker with ventilator equipment, which was then flown by helicopter to a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Michigan.
  • Atlas Air, National Airlines, UPS, FedEx, Kalitta Air, STG Logistics and Radiant Global Logistics are participating in Project Airbridge, delivering emergency loads under contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to New York JFK Airport; Chicago O’Hare Airport; Miami; Los Angeles; Louisville, Kentucky; Dallas-Fort Worth and Rickenbacker Airport.
  • Rickenbacker Airport has handled 26 flights out of Shanghai carrying 5.6 million pounds of freight since March 1, including medical supplies. It also was the origin for 187 double-stacked pallets of outgoing medical supplies to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan, via a Volga-Dnepr Group charter in late March.
  • The Midwest USA Chinese Chamber of Commerce is leading an effort to ship donations of respirators, surgical masks, isolation gowns and other supplies from Shanghai.
  • Boeing Co. on Friday delivered the first set of reusable face shields it is manufacturing at multiple locations using 3D printers. FEMA will send the shields to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which has been established as an alternate care site to treat patients with COVID-19. Boeing is set to produce thousands more face shields per week. Boeing also has offered the U.S. government use of three of its Dreamlifters, an oversized cargo plane specially designed to carry large aircraft sections from suppliers to 787 Dreamliner assembly plants in Washington state and Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Airbus is delivering PPE with test planes and military airlifters. 
  • Worldwide Flight Services handled more than 450 tons of medical supplies in three days that arrived this week in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, on freighters and cargo-only passenger aircraft from around the world. Flights were operated by Olympus Airways, Air China, AirBridgeCargo and Volga-Dnepr Airlines. Spain’s Ministry of Health and regional health care authorities coordinated the flights.
  • Canadian leisure carrier Air Transat, which shut down operations April 1 following its last flight repatriating Canadians from overseas, donated 44,000 N95 and surgical face masks and 301,000 gloves that it had purchased to protect its crews to the Quebec Ministry of Health.
  • United Airlines is providing free round-trip flights for medical volunteers who want to treat coronavirus patients in New York City and California. Medical volunteer organizations are coordinating travel for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals from across the country.
  • Sun Country Airlines is offering free flights to health care workers traveling through the end of April to assist hospitals combating COVID-19.
  • Virgin Atlantic teamed with Virgin Group’s nonprofit foundation, Virgin Unite, to fly a special 787-9 passenger charter from Shanghai to London with scrubs, aprons, eye protection, ventilator parts and other essential supplies for the National Health Service (NHS). Seven more flights are scheduled this month.
  • A British Airways B777 passenger plane loaded with ventilators and PPE from China landed at London Heathrow Airport on Friday. In several days, 55,000 tons of hand sanitizer — equivalent to 62,000 bottles — will also be flown in. Sister company IAG Cargo helped organize the shipments, which will be delivered to NHS hospitals across the U.K.
  • China Eastern Airways carried doctors and medical supplies to Milan, Italy, to help hospitals and medical centers.
  • Swiss International Airlines is operating 10 flights this month with A340 passenger planes in cargo mode bringing more than 35 million pieces of PPE from China to Switzerland on behalf of a Zurich pharmacy.
  • Forwarder Pilot Freight Services, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, is delivering medical supplies across the country. Pilot’s Piscataway, New Jersey, warehouse created a “clean room” for medical engineers and technicians to inspect, clean, test and validate patient monitoring equipment. Within 24 hours of arrival, medical equipment is cleaned, tested and repacked for delivery to hospitals in New York City. Pilot also used its ground network to deliver hundreds of cots to equip a New York City field hospital. To expedite the shipment, Pilot, at the request of the hospital leadership team, pivoted and delivered the cots to the CEO’s home to comply with safety protocols intended to keep drivers and delivery teams away from secure areas designated for medical personnel only.
  • DHL Global Forwarding and DHL Express activated their disaster response team to help the Costa Rican government centralize logistics, warehousing, distribution and procurement of supplies for at least 20 government entities that serve front-line agencies dealing with COVID-19. The warehouse will store PPE, sanitation and cleaning supplies, medical and emergency equipment, food and water, and water tanks. Government employees will operate the facility with guidance from the DHL volunteers.